As most of you know Shawne Merriman, Pro Bowl linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, recently decided to shut down his season by opting for season-ending surgery. Many Chargers players are playing through very painful and potentially career threatening injuries. The Chargers feel that this year might be the last year that they have their entire supporting cast together for a shot at a Super Bowl Championship. They want it and they want it now.
People criticized his decision to play through the pain, saying it was a stupid mistake and he would regret it later in life or in his career. However, if you could go up to Dan Marino, Barry Sanders, Jim Kelly, or any Hall of Fame player without a ring and ask them, if you had the option of playing through an injury and risk your career, for a legitimate shot at winning a Super Bowl, we can all guess what their answer would be... Yes. That's a tough decision to make. A question that Merriman had answered yes to as well. He wants that Championship, now.
After playing week one, testing his knees, and seeing his ineffectiveness, while experiencing the pain of playing on knee with two torn ligaments the morning after, he decided to shut down his season. He didn't have the same spark, his knee restricted his movement, he was highly ineffective and a Carolina Panthers offensive lineman got flagged for an illegal cut-block on Merriman, that hit him square on his bad knee. He knew he wasn't able to play like he is capable of playing. He knew that a 100% Jyles Tucker and Marques Harris are better than a Shawne Merriman with two torn ligaments in his knee. By deciding to end his season by getting surgery, he made a decision that may have saved the Chargers season.
Jyles Tucker and Marques Harris will be filling in for Merriman this season. The Chargers of recent years have a knack for finding linebackers, letting them spell the starters for a few seasons and then throw them into the fire and giving them a starting role, while the rest of the league scratches their heads at why they would start these relatively unknowns. Since the A.J. Smith era, this has worked out incredibly. Shaun Phillips, Matt Wilhelm, and Stephen Cooper were all players that started on the practice squad, backed up and would occasionally spell Steve Foley, Donnie Edwards, and Randall Godfrey. While Wilhelm is still going through some growing pains, he has shown flashes of big play capabilities. Stephen Cooper had a phenomenal season last year in his first year as a starter and looks to continue to develop into a play making middle linebacker. Shaun Phillips, up until now, was known as the other Shaun, quietly totalling 20 sacks in the last two seasons and establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with.
In a similar fashion expect Jyles Tucker, who will be getting most of the snaps at Merriman's position, to be the latest unheralded star on a star studded defense. In the last game of the season last year, he got more action than just spelling Merriman and Phillips for a few snaps, as the Chargers decided to give their starters some rest for the playoffs. While filling in for Merriman, Tucker recorded 3 sacks, forced 2 fumbles and recovered one in the end zone for a touchdown. In the preseason, it was rare to not hear his name mentioned by Billy Ray Smith, putting a constant supply of pressure on the quarterback. He has the tenacity and drive to reach the quarterback with constant regularity. Marques Harris as been a career back up for the Chargers, filling in for Phillips and Merriman when necessary. He too has shown a knack for pass rushing and coming up with big plays. Charger fans are starting to get used to his back-flip celebration after big plays.
Not only will Jyles Tucker and Marques Harris be better than an injured Shawne Merriman, but they will make people stop thinking about the loss of Merriman and continue thinking of a Super Bowl Cahmpionship. I'm not saying that Merriman won't be missed, because he will be. A new leader will have to step up on defense to provide the energy and spark that 'Lights Out' had. But the Chargers defense will operate just smoothly without Merriman. Although he is one of the best linebackers in the league, he is replaceable and the Chargers have the depth to do so. Opposing teams shouldn't rest on their laurels against the Chargers new pass rushers or they will be in for a world of trouble. Charger fans, get ready to see a lot more back-flips.
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