Around the New Year, Shawne Merriman plans to scour scouting reports and statistics for some of the other top defensive ends in the country, such as Louisiana State's Marcus Spears and Georgia's David Pollack. Merriman will check them all because the Maryland junior's goal is to be considered the best nationally by season's end.
Until then, though, he'll avoid following their performances because he says individual merit won't mean anything if the Terps don't win. In the meantime, he said, he'll play with a ferocity to earn respect for himself and the team.
Merriman moved to defensive end this year to help solidify Maryland's new 4-3 defense and, Coach Ralph Friedgen said, played the best football of his college career Saturday against Northern Illinois, when he recorded 10 tackles.
"Everyone thought that Northern Illinois was going to demolish us," said Merriman, whose 23rd-ranked Terps host Temple on Saturday. "They were a pretty good team. But for someone to say that we're going to get stomped by a team that barely beat us last year wasn't right. They were talking a lot in the media, especially their players. We're a team with a lot more class, and we're not going to talk about what we're going to do. We'll let our play speak for itself."
When Merriman wants mentorship, he often consults Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, whom Merriman grew close to during his senior year of high school. Arrington has a younger brother who attended Merriman's Frederick Douglass High in Upper Marlboro, where the three-time Pro Bowler first watched Merriman play.
"That's like my big brother," Merriman said of Arrington. "He told me to keep a good head on my shoulders and not to change who I am."
Friedgen has told Merriman that the guy who played his position best is Lawrence Taylor, the former New York Giants linebacker. "Shawne has an innate ability to time and knock down passes. . . ." Friedgen said. "He's really a guy who is hard to find. He is big enough to play over a tight end or a tackle and strong enough to hold up. And he's fast enough to play man-to-man on backs. He kind of has the whole package there."
During Merriman's freshman year at Maryland, he initially played defensive end but wanted to play linebacker and compete on offense to see more action. "I was about to lose my hair at an early age," Merriman said. "I didn't know what to do."
One night, Merriman called Friedgen at 10 p.m. and asked if he could play tight end. "Are you joking?" Friedgen answered.
Merriman last season bulked up from 230 pounds and successfully played the "Leo" slot, a hybrid end-linebacker position, where he recorded 8.5 sacks (tied for second in the ACC). This season, the 6-foot-4 Merriman entered camp weighing 245 pounds and benching 55 more pounds than his previous best. He said he's ready to dominate.
"What I do, it's completely a dirty position," Merriman said. "You have to run with the wide receivers. You have to run with the backs. But at the same time you have to hold up against the run against the right or left tackle."
Terrapins Note: Banged up running backs Josh Allen and Sam Maldonado practiced wearing yellow jerseys last night, which restrict contact, but are expected to be healthy Saturday. Offensive linemen C.J. Brooks and Stephon Heyer also are battling nagging injuries but are expected to play.