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For Merriman, Much Merriment

Chargers End Wait, Select Maryland Linebacker With 12th Overall Pick

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page E13

When the day began, Shawne Merriman looked cool and calm as he gathered with friends and family to watch the NFL draft at the Broadwater Mansion in Upper Marlboro. It was only two hours later, after he'd watched 11 teams pass on him, that Merriman began to sweat.

The Maryland star anxiously fidgeted with a cell phone and nervously tapped his rare pair of Nike Air Force Ones together. When the Cowboys, who were rumored to be interested in selecting Merriman with the 11th pick, instead chose Troy defensive end Demarcus Ware, the room of approximately 30 people fell silent.

Maryland linebacker Shawne Merriman, right, with family and friends, applauds his selection by San Diego as the 12th pick in the first round of the NFL draft. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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Merriman sweated some more. And then, mercifully, his cell phone rang. A buzz shot through the room as he put the phone to his ear.

"Hello," Merriman said.

"Are you ready to be a San Diego Charger?" a voice asked on the other end.

"Are you ready for Shawne Merriman?" Merriman countered, his face breaking into a huge smile.

And with that the room exploded into cheers.

Though the wait was not enjoyable, it could be argued that Merriman ended up in a perfect place. The Chargers run a 3-4 defense, which should provide Merriman with an opportunity to get on the field either as an outside linebacker or as a pure pass rusher.

San Diego Coach Marty Schottenheimer looks at the 6-foot-4, 272-pound Merriman and sees an updated version of Derrick Thomas, a defensive end-linebacker hybrid who terrorized quarterbacks for a decade when Schottenheimer coached in Kansas City.

"We talked about Derrick Thomas when I went out there for a visit," said Merriman, who recorded 8 1/2 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss last season as a junior for the Terrapins. "They talked about moving me around and letting me play all over the place. It's a good fit for me."

The Chargers won the AFC West last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 1995. Merriman will join a solid defense that includes excellent linebackers Donnie Edwards, Randall Godfrey and Steve Foley.

One area where the Chargers had problems was with pass defense. Schottenheimer is hoping Merriman can help change that. The Chargers ranked 31st in pass defense, ahead of only Kansas City, and produced only 29 sacks. San Diego's five defensive ends combined to produce four sacks.

Thanks to Thomas and defensive end Neil Smith, Schottenheimer's Chiefs regularly ranked among the league leaders in sacks, and that pressure led to Schottenheimer's other favorite thing: turnovers. That's where Merriman comes in.

"We've been looking to try to find a way to get additional pressure out of our defense on the quarterback," Schottenheimer said on the Chargers' Web site. "Our pass defense was not what ranked where it needs to be to be a championship football team."

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