ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Shawne Merriman finds himself back in Buffalo eager to resume playing football after a two-month break, while also feeling a little red-faced over his, well, red face.
Preparing for his first practice with the Bills on Wednesday since re-signing with the team, the pass-rushing specialist sheepishly explained why his face was conspicuously sunburnt. It happened about 10 days ago after he finished a workout at his home in Miami.
"I fell asleep on the beach," Merriman said. "I woke up and my face was just hurting so bad. First time I ever had a sunburn."
Vacation time's over. With winter around the corner, Merriman won't be needing any sunblock in Buffalo, where the three-time Pro Bowl selection is getting yet another chance to kick start what's been a stalled career.
"I'll look to heal up here now," he said. "I'm excited, man."
Deemed expendable in mid-August, when the Bills cut Merriman, the player nicknamed "Lights Out" is back in a bid to provide a spark and add veteran depth to an injury-depleted defensive line. Starting right defensive end Mark Anderson is out indefinitely after having knee surgery last week, while veteran backup lineman Spencer Johnson is week to week with an ankle injury.
Coach Chan Gailey said he needs to evaluate Merriman in practice first before determining whether he'll play Sunday, when the Bills (3-3) host Tennessee (2-4).
"Probably, but don't make me 100 percent on that," Gailey said referring to Merriman's chances of playing. "As long as he's in playing shape and everything goes well this week, and he gets back into the flow of things, he's probably going to be right there Sunday afternoon giving us some help."
The Bills defense could as much help as it can get after getting off to a very inconsistent start.
After allowing a combined 1,201 yards and 97 points in consecutive blowout losses, Buffalo bounced back in a 19-16 overtime win at Arizona last weekend. It was a game in which high-priced free-agent addition Mario Williams had two of Buffalo's five sacks, and safety Jairus Byrd's second of two interceptions set up Rian Lindell's decisive field goal.
Having kept tabs with his former teammates and watched Buffalo's games on TV, Merriman is fully aware of the Bills struggles and itching to help.
"It's a little bit tougher to sit back and watch the game," he said. "But the good thing is, I don't have to sit back and watch any more. I can go out there and play now."
In his prime, Merriman was one of the league's most feared pass rushers. The NFL's 2005 defensive rookie of the year combined for 39 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons with San Diego.
Injuries, however, caught up to Merriman. He's managed just six sacks over his past four seasons, including two in Buffalo.
Discarded by the Chargers midway through the 2010 season, Merriman was claimed on waivers by Buffalo. He didn't make it through his first practice with the Bills before aggravating a nagging Achilles tendon injury.
He lasted five games with Buffalo the following year before landing on season-ending injured reserve in order to have surgery on his tendon and shoulder.
Merriman declared himself as feeling rejuvenated in June, but that wasn't enough for him to keep his job. His $4 million contract was considered too expensive for a backup, and the Bills wanted to free up space to develop younger players.
Merriman bears no hard feelings against the Bills. And he said he's spent the past two months staying in shape by working out in both Miami and San Diego.
"I'm happy to not only contribute, but kind of just pick up where I left off and do what they need me to do," he said. "And obviously with these guys, if they didn't think I could play defensive end, then they wouldn't have brought me back."
It helps that Merriman's familiar with the Bills' defensive scheme as well as the players.
"Very welcome. We love to have him back here," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "He's done it before and can do it again. He's got his opportunity right now, and I think you can see his ribs showing because the man is hungry."
NOTES: Rookie CB Ron Brooks returned to practice for the first time since breaking his right foot in a preseason game. Placed on the Injured Reserve/Designated for Return list, he's eligible to be activated after Week 8. ... RG Kraig Urbik practiced for the first time in two weeks since hurting his ankle, and has a chance to play Sunday. ... Gailey has ruled out LT Cordy Glenn (ankle) from playing Sunday, but expects the starter to have a good chance to return once the Bills return from their bye week off next week.
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