Discounting a brief cameo in Week 1 of the 2008 NFL Season, it's been nearly a year and a half since football fans have gotten to see Shawne Merriman in high competition on a football gridiron.
The exuberant San Diego linebacker sported a mohawk during the Chargers' recent mini-camp following the 2009 NFL Draft and was seen excitedly going through drills and chatting up teammates all the while displaying a jumpy anxiousness that is no doubt related to Merriman's desire for September to arrive.
In his year and a half away from the football field, Merriman has been through as many hardships as Ulysses in the Odyssey: He refused surgery prior to the 2008 season and insisted he could play with two torn tendons in his knee.
After his only appearance in the opener against Carolina, No. 56 finally went under the knife, missing the rest of the season.
He then saw his team limp towards the playoffs with a battered defense, injuries on both sides of the ball and an 8-8 record. While his recovery was successful and came closer to "football shape", he witnessed a turbulent offseason in which his team nearly severed ties with its most recognizable star, running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Finally, Merriman was given one final ordeal to face last April, this one potentially having more bearing on his future than anything else when his team drafted LB/DE Larry English in the first round of the draft. This immediately put question marks on Merriman's status with the team beyond 2010, the last year San Diego can keep him without offering a brand new, long-term contract.
With all this drama going on around the player and within Merriman's psyche, what's going on in the former Maryland Terrapin's mind? Here are a few questions I would love to hear the answers to from Merriman:
-What are your thoughts on how A.J. Smith has handled negotiations with key veterans in the past, mainly Donnie Edwards, Drew Brees and more recently, LaDainian Tomlinson?
This question is meant to pique the fan's interest on whether Merriman will drop some clues about what he expects his future with the Chargers to be. Given the general manager's oft-turbulent relationship with some players in the past, I'd want to know whether he expects Smith to jettison him or keep him around after his contract is up.
-You mentioned that you were shocked and angry when the team selected Larry English. What is your relationship with English now?
More or less on the same line of questioning. Hopefully, I've got him thinking about the future with my first question, and now my second is designed to pry into his feelings towards the organization's approach to either give him some help, or replace him entirely depending on who you talk to.
-Mini-camp was a few days ago. Sure, you were around in the pre-season, but excluding that game against Carolina last season, this was the first time we got to see Shawne Merriman on a football field in a long time. What was it like for you to be away from the field for so long?
I would want to ask him this to set up my next question, to stir some emotions within him with the knowledge that he is an intensely competitive man who loves to be out on the field doing what he does best.
-Picture this: It's Monday night, September 14th. You got a national TV audience and one of the franchise's most hated rivals in front of you in the Oakland Raiders. What are you going to do on the field that night?
It's something that every Charger fan is curious about, no doubt. Because of their injuries and off-season drama; along with Tomlinson, Merriman will have plenty of sets of eyes on him from the get-go, wanting him to explode and deliver the words "I'm back" via his performance.
-The media, fans, and other teams alike look at this Chargers roster and recognize the incredible amount of talent. So far though, zero Super Bowls. Do you believe this is San Diego's year? If so, why?
A lot of things have changed for San Diego over the years during A.J. Smith's reign, players, coaches, styles of play—but what's going to make this club different? I want to know where Merriman thinks the team excels where it has faltered in the past.
-What do you think the Chargers have lacked in the past to get to that point?
If his previous answer didn't cover this already, I want to know what Shawne thinks about San Diego and their inability to live up to their potential in the past.
-You have games against Pittsburgh and the New York Giants next year, the last two league champions. Tell me why they should be cautious of the San Diego Chargers and not the other way around.
Merriman's swagger is legendary. What better way to create even more anticipation for this game than what's there already? The sub-plots are juicy, with Pittsburgh knocking the Chargers off last season, with the Giants fielding Eli Manning as their QB against the franchise he didn't want to play for... but a Merriman quote to fuel the fire? Icing on the cake.
-What's the main difference for you as a player, between taking orders from Ted Cottrell and Ron Rivera?
A little insight into the Chargers' defensive philosophy for this season from the player's standpoint is important to help ease fans fears about a repeat of 2008, and also to appeal to Merriman's aggressiveness on the field with the thought of Rivera releasing the chains on him and letting him go after QBs next season.
-The obvious goal for the team and for yourself is to hoist the Lombardi Trophy by February of 2010. But, what are your personal goals for this upcoming season?
Here's hoping he feeds me a stat line. I'd expect nothing less than the—slightly exaggerated coming from anybody else's mouth—Merriman swagger for this question as well, aimed at alerting opposing offenses playing against San Diego next season.
Feeling satisfied after covering his personal status as a future free agent, discussing his injury, prying into the locker room and getting his opinion on what's happened in the past and what we can expect from the future, I'd thank Mr. Merriman for his time.
This session would hopefully feed the Charger and the football community with excellent information designed to pump us up and await September with even more anxiety.