Before many of you readers start bashing me on this, let me take some time to explain myself. Shawne Merriman was a victim of a really serious injury. That's unquestionable. What was in question is the scheme that Merriman would have came into if he was healthy.
Merriman isn't a guy that fits Ron Rivera's defense. Rivera's defense is a zone base scheme. Merriman ain't the zone type of guy. Many of the Chargers' sacks this season that help them ranked second in the league in sacks were "coverage" sacks. This means that the QB usually can't throw the ball due to the secondary and linebackers often blanketing the field with disguised zone coverage, giving the rushers a longer time to get to the QB.
By no means is Merriman that type of player. Shaun Phillips is a very well-rounded OLB. He's not great like Merriman in pressuring opposing QBs but he's good enough to be able to pressure and play zone coverage also.
Let's be honest here, Merriman's health and lack of stats the past couple of years aren't the reason why he is no longer a Charger. The only reason why Merriman is gone is because of the Chargers' problems on special teams. That's right, special teams is why he isn't wearing the San Diego uniform next season.
Merriman wasn't getting on the field due to his health and seeing how many of the Chargers' special teams players were getting hurt left and right, Merriman was taking up a roster spot that could be used on a special teams player. Antwan Barnes came in to be that guy and also contribute on the defensive side of the ball.
Now that Ron Rivera is gone, the Chargers now have Greg Manusky as the defensive coordinator. This is where I feel Merriman would have found his legs again. Why? Because Manusky is running the same exact scheme that Merriman made a name for himself in.
Manusky's scheme isn't zone based, it's based around aggressive play-calling and sending the house against a QB forcing him to make a mistake. Merriman was a beast in this type of defense. It was said that he revolutionize the LB position much similar to how Lawrence Taylor did back in the day.
Merriman had the size of a defensive linemen and the tenacity of a heat-seeking OLB which made it hard for any coordinator to scheme against him. He demanded the attention of the opposing offenses and it often took more than three blockers to block him which was tough as it freed up one on one blocks against the other Charger players who were good in their own right.
If you look at Merriman's stats back in his first two years in the league, you can easily see what type of player he was for former DC Wade Phillips' aggressive defense. Subsequently, the same defense that Manusky is bringing back to San Diego next season.
In Merriman's 2005 rookie season, Merriman had 57 combined tackles, 10 sacks, four pass defended and forced two fumbles. He started only 10 out of 15 games, putting up ridiculous stats that essentially put him in the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
In 2006, Merriman had 62 combined tackles, 17 sacks, seven pass defended, one interception and four forced fumbles. He went to the Pro Bowl again.
His first two seasons, playing in Phillips' defense, got the Chargers a player to put on the defensive side of the ball that instilled fear in opposing offenses.
Merriman is no longer with the Chargers. The Chargers may look for the next Merriman in the draft to fit this defense the way he did for Phillips in the 2005-2006 seasons.
There will be the likes of Ryan Kerrigan, Akeem Ayers and Jeremey Beal amongst others in this upcoming draft. I believe that the next big time player is within those ranks but one can't help wondering what a young, healthy, recovered Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman would have done for the Chargers again in the scheme that made him one of the most feared OLBs in the entire league.
Only if fate had him stay, I honestly believe under DC Manusky, Merriman would have been back to putting opposing QB's lights out.