Many Chargers fans have fond memories of former pass rusher Shawne Merriman and how he terrorized quarterbacks during his first three seasons in the league. While his downfall and subsequent departure from the team was under less than ideal circumstances, that trio of years (2005 - 07) saw some extreme sack totals put up by Merriman and real on-field intensity. Now fans are turning to a new mid-first round selection with passion in the pass rushing role to try and reenact those successes; Melvin Ingram.
The similarities between Ingram and Merriman are easy to see on the field as “Lights Out” had two inches on Ingram at 6’4” as opposed to his 6’2” frame and their weights are nearly identical as well with Ingram at 264 versus Merriman at 272. The NFL Scouting Combine was where Merriman really burst onto the scene as a physical freak of nature to many scouts in attendance. He ran the 40 yard dash in just 4.68 seconds and put up 25 reps in the bench press. Ingram had a similar combine performance with a time slightly slower than Merriman at 4.79 seconds while his strength was a bit more impressive with 28 reps.
While all of these numbers are fine and show that both players have similar size, stature, and physical abilities, what makes them even close to comparable on the field?
Perhaps the most noticeable attributes and stylistic elements that jump out from tape of either player are the way that each plays with such a low center of gravity. Explosion off of the line of scrimmage is another thing that links the two as both show an uncanny ability to get off on the snap of the ball and shift into full gear immediately in pursuit of the quarterback.
What could really benefit Ingram the most is that the Chargers will be able to utilize him in a very similar fashion to the way Merriman was intergrated into their defense during his rookie season. The team has a nice rotation set up at outside linebacker with Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes, Larry English, and newcomer Jarret Johnson who will likely see the majority of the snaps. Ingram will be used as a situational player with one sole role: get after the quarterback.
Following the draft, Head Coach Norv Turner said: “Melvin can be an impact player. He doesn't have to be on the field every down. He can fit in with the mix of the guys we have. He can learn from them. I think he's going to be outstanding on third down. He’s an exceptional player who can do a lot of things. I think he was the most complete linebacker in the draft.” For a player that lined up with his hand in the dirt for the bulk of his collegiate career, that is quite a lofty compliment.
One area that the defense needs some significant improvement on this season is third down where they ranked last in the league allowing opponents to convert 49.2 percent of the time, the worst number in the NFL since 1995. According to coach Turner: “When you're 32nd in the league on third down, it's not one thing. But to me, it starts with pressuring the quarterback, and the other end of it, obviously, is as you're getting pressure, find a way to get enough coverage so the quarterback has to hold onto the ball. We're making a big focus on third down on offense and on defense, and we'll continue to look at ways to get better.”
There was just something about the look that Merriman had once upon a time coming into camp as a rookie with the Bolts. Even after a lengthy holdout, fans had high expectations and saw a great deal of promise in a player that delivered immediately on that potential. With Ingram signing very early after being drafted, he will have even more time to get integrated into the Bolts’ defensive alignment which will raise his chances of success significantly.
What is most endearing about Ingram to Chargers fans is what the team has been missing since Merriman’s decline and eventual exit from San Diego. His humble nature is awfully appealing as well as his comments after the draft said it all: “I've been thanking God a million times just to have the opportunity to be part of a winning organization. I feel I can bring a hard worker who's going to lay it on the line every play for my teammates, who's going to have a relentless effort. I'm going to learn the playbook as soon as possible to get on the field as soon as possible.”
While many rookies bicker over signing bonuses and contract structuring, Ingram held true to his word and got to work as soon as possible. Fans have to be excited to have such a dedicated player who loves the game in camp and ready to work from the start. There is plenty of reason for optimism that Ingram will burst onto the scene as a real force in his rookie season with the Bolts.
Now it’s your turn! Do you think that Ingram can produce Merriman-like stats in year one with the Chargers? Are the similarities between the two players a good thing or a bad thing? Will Ingram’s presence aid the Bolts defense on third down this season? What is the most appealing aspect of Ingram to you? Prediction time: How many sacks do you see Ingram having in his rookie season? Please fill up the comments section below!
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