Shawne Merriman is hoping for a fresh start in Buffalo. The Bills want to plug their porous defense. The two hope it's a perfect match.
Three days after the Bills claimed the 2005 first-round pick off waivers from the San Diego Chargers, the once-feared pass rusher expressed his readiness to turn the page and resurrect a promising career that had turned sour.
"They have high expectations for me to come in and make some things happen, and I'm going to do that," Merriman said Saturday before he and the rest of his new team departed for Toronto for their game Sunday against the Chicago Bears (4-3). "I've been working out and I'm just ready to get on the field as soon as possible. Whatever they need me to do, I'm here to work and kind of be a piece of the puzzle."
Merriman was waived three weeks after he was placed on injured reserve because of a calf injury. The injury was designated as minor, meaning he was to be released once he was deemed healthy by the Chargers.
"I had a great six years out in San Diego, and have a bunch of teammates that will be lifelong friends," Merriman said. "They made a decision, and it happens. Whether someone thinks that you can play or not, if the team decides to move in a different direction, they do that. For me, I'm more excited to get here and be in a position that I am right now, and contribute to a team that really needs me to go out and play. I plan on doing that."
Merriman passed his physicals, declared himself healthy, and will begin practicing Monday. Whether or not he makes his Bills debut next Sunday when Buffalo (0-7) hosts the Detroit Lions remains to be seen.
"The faster I learn, the faster I get on the field," he said.
The Bills added Merriman in a bid to improve a defense that had struggled mightily. The three-time Pro Bowler joins a unit that ranks last in the NFL against the run, allowing nearly 189 yards a game. Buffalo's pass rush isn't much better, as the Bills have registered just 11 sacks — fifth-fewest in the league.
"You see the guys and the talent on the field, and you wonder how is this team 0-7? This doesn't look like an 0-7 team," Merriman said. "A lot of the things they have going on defensively are things that I'm accustomed to doing."
Nicknamed "Lights Out" for his aggressive and hard-hitting style, Merriman has 43 1/2 sacks in his 60-game career. But he's done it only four times in the past three seasons. The big drop-off has been largely due to nagging injuries, including reconstructive knee surgery that forced him to miss most of the 2008 season.
This year he was slowed by an Achilles' tendon injury and then the calf injury. He sat out most of the offseason workouts and part of training camp to protest his contract status.
Merriman was suspended four games in 2006 after testing positive for steroids. He blamed the positive test on a tainted supplement, which he never identified.
He also brought unwanted attention off the field after being arrested just before the 2009 season when reality television star Tila Tequila accused him of battery and false imprisonment at his suburban San Diego home. No charges were filed, and Merriman and Tequila settled dueling lawsuits.
All that, though, is in the past, according to the 26-year-old.
"I'm more than happy to be in the position that I am to be going forward with these guys, and as being a Buffalo Bill," he said. "Bottom line, I love playing football."
The Bills are hoping they'll love Merriman just as much.