As the Bills open up their offseason conditioning program this morning there will be a lot of veteran players still in rehab mode coming off of surgeries from late last year. Players like Kyle Williams and Eric Wood have targeted training camp to be full go. Shawne Merriman is another example, but he's a bit further ahead. In fact Merriman appears on track to feel as good as he has in three years.
Battling an Achilles problem since 2009, Merriman saw his first full season with Buffalo in 2011 barely get off the ground. He showed flashes of his game in the preseason, but his Achilles issues re-surfaced not long after the regular season began. Those problems eventually forced him to prematurely shut it down for another year after just five games.
It was decided that surgery would be needed.
"Obviously I was disappointed because I didn't finish the season and I wasn't out there helping the guys on the field," Merriman told Buffalobills.com. "To sit back and watch them and not being there was disheartening for me. At the same time I was kind of relieved too because this is something that had been going on for three years where it had been undecided on what to do and the best route to take.
"The Achilles is such a unique injury. It's not one of those things where you look at it and say, 'Let's go fix it right now.' But we reached a point where it was time to get it done. I was very pleased as far as how things went with the surgery. I feel great now. Obviously I'm still in a bit of rehab process with slight limitations. For the most part though, I feel great."
Early last November Merriman had Achilles surgery performed to repair fraying of his Achilles tendon. To do that the tendon had to be detached from the heel, repaired and tied back down. Kyle Williams had an almost identical procedure to remove a bone spur that had been rubbing on his Achilles. The surgery carries with it a four to five month rehabilitation.
"The trainers are pretty good with me," said Merriman. "They've been on the same page and have done a great job of protecting me from me. They've got me to understand that I'm not yet 100 percent so there's no need for me to go out and try to push it or go past a level that's going to set me back. They've been tremendous in helping me get to this point. And as I get more confident doing the things I love to do just being around the guys will be good."
It's understandable why there are doubters as to just what Merriman can offer after almost four years of very little production on his NFL resume. Even the Bills are taking a wait and see approach.
As far as Merriman is concerned however, this time around things will be different. No longer is he hoping that the course of action to alleviate his Achilles problem will work. He knows surgery has solved it.
"Now I get a chance to have a full offseason. I had all kinds of restrictions and limitations with things I couldn't do last year because of my Achilles," said Merriman in reference to his very curtailed workload in training camp last summer. "Now it's a different scenario. Now by the time May comes around and runs into June I'll be at full stride and be able to do everything and work out with my teammates. Starting today and going all the way up to the season it's a completely different story than I've had the past three years."
As Merriman sees it, no longer is it a question of if he'll be 100 percent healthy, but when. At the same time he's not assigning a timetable for his return to full form.
"Absolutely I'm going to be 100 percent," he said. "The amount of hours in rehab to be the player my team needs me to be is going to be recognized soon. People will see it where they won't have to keep asking me. Those are questions that hopefully I'm not asked very much this season. My body is not going to change much from Monday to Thursday. You'll know when I'm back to 100 percent."
Merriman says he has no real restrictions at this point as he can do full conditioning training, which begins in earnest for the Bills today, though it is voluntary. Being medically cleared however, is far from what Merriman considers peak performance.
"It's kind of a little awkward to explain it," he said. "I'm at full speed and I'll look good running, changing direction and all that stuff. But that's not what I'm aiming to do. To be where I want to be and to be dominant and be the player that my guys need me to go out and be this year I have a lot more to go. Me being ready for the season as the player that I want to be is far from where everyone else's 100 percent is. Yeah I could go out and play football, but where I want to be mentally and physically for my team this year… I'm not there yet."
Training camp will be a much better situation for Merriman come late July. There might be a day off here or there knowing the layoff from live football has been lengthy. But as the former linebacker, soon-to-be defensive end sees it the fall is the primary target.
"You still have to be smart because football is played in September," he said. "You don't want to go out and do anything that jeopardizes helping your team, but training camp is going to be an absolutely different scenario."