Four or five years ago, the Chargers never could have imagined having difficulty getting pressure on an opposing quarterback with Shawne Merriman’s breakout onto the NFL scene and Shaun Phillips looking like a man possessed on his opposite. Fast forward now to the present and the Bolts are desperate for any sort of pass rushing presence to emerge from their depth chart at the outside linebacker position.
Merriman’s injury issues have been well documented beginning with his torn ACL which kept him off of the field for the entire 2008 season. “Lights Out” returned to the Bolts lineup last year claiming to feel recharged and ready to get back to his old havoc wreaking ways, but he struggled to gain any sort of consistency and only recorded four sacks for the entire 2009 season. After putting up 39.5 sacks in just 42 regular season games over the first three years of his career, Merriman has flatlined in terms of production.
His falloff has hampered Phillips’ ability on the other side to get free runs at the quarterback as teams are able to handle Merriman with a single blocker on most occasions. He may never have been as feared on the edge as “Lights Out”, but Phillips has the ability to turn the corner and wreak havoc on opposing offensive tackles. Only one time did Phillips manage to reach a double-digit sack mark and that was in 2006 during Merriman’s outstanding campaign of 17.5 sacks when team were double and triple teaming him at times.
Just two quarterback hits all preseason from the outside linebackers is definitely reason for concern in a 3-4 defense predicated on pressuring the opposing signal caller with those hybrid stand up pass rushers. One of those hits led to a completion by Jay Cutler in the team’s opening preseason tilt and the other resulted in a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Phillips for roughing the passer. Needless to say, the Bolts have to be concerned with Merriman’s injury issues which seem to have surfaced once again as the linebacker hasn’t even seen the field yet after returning from his week long holdout to begin training camp due to a nagging Achilles injury. There are fears that these lingering injuries will continue to haunt Merriman and even prevent him from suiting up for the Monday night season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
For Merriman, this was supposed to be the season where he returned to form one full year removed from his reconstructive knee surgery and fully recovered with an expiring contract. For his own future in the league and with the Chargers, “Lights Out” needed to burst back onto the scene with the same electricity that he once exuded and charge up the rest of his teammates. Larry English is waiting in the wings now to take over the starting job from Merriman should these injuries continue to be an issue, but the Bolts are going to take the necessary precautions to hopefully nip this problem in the bud.
Instead of lamenting what might have been or worrying about conditional situations, the Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera needs to concoct some exotic looking blitz schemes to help rejuvenate this beleaguered pass rush. Much like the New England Patriots often do, maybe the Bolts need to experiment with two down lineman and five linebackers at times just to confuse opposing offensive lines and get a leg up on the competition by any means necessary. This team has tried a variety of different players in Merriman’s role, but none have been successful enough to warrant any high praise from the coaching staff. Antwan Applewhite, Jyles Tucker, Larry English, Shaun Phillips, and even rookie Brandon Lang all seem to be lukewarm at best without the aid of a big time pass rusher on the other side of the field.
The real question is will that presence ever return in the form of Merriman, or will the team be forced to look elsewhere for a top flight pass rusher to get after the quarterback?
What do the fans think, is Merriman still a feared member of the Chargers defense, or should the team turn the page to a new chapter with English as the starter? Will the Bolts be able to get after the quarterback without blitzing a member of the secondary, or does the team need to employ some exotic blitz looks to generate more pressure? Will Merriman be a Charger in 2011, or will the team move in a new direction at outside linebacker? Let’s get some feedback below!
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