Merriman finding his niche


His final stat line from last Thursday night's game won't wow anyone. He had a pair of tackles, one being a sack and a quarterback hit. For those who knew the old Shawne Merriman it might even be viewed as a subpar performance. For his coaches and Buffalo teammates that watched the film of the game Friday before getting the weekend off it was an encouraging sign.

No one on the Bills defensive staff or in Buffalo's locker room is expecting to see Merriman in his pass rushing prime any time soon. But in the five weeks that the veteran has been back in the building, Thursday night was the kind of role the defensive end needs to play to help a defense in need of consistent play.

With Mark Anderson still down with a knee injury and Chris Kelsay missing his second straight game with a neck injury, Merriman saw his most action since rejoining the team getting 22 snaps against the Dolphins.

For the first time this the veteran actually felt like he got into the flow of the game.

"It's all opportunity," Merriman told "I knew when the plays came to my side I had to make plays. I know I'm not going to get a ton of snaps, but when I get in there I have to make them count. I'm coming in to be spark. That's what these guys are looking for me to do is come in and be a spark and that's what I try to do."

Most observers will likely point to Merriman's sack just before the two-minute warning as an indication of a successful outing. But that would be overlooking the defensive end's primary role in the game. He played mainly on first downs and other run down situations to help set the edge in the run front, an area of his game that's been often overlooked.

"Whenever you have the amount of sacks I had in my career when I was healthy that's all you get recognized for, but I always took pride in playing the run," said Merriman. "In the times my Achilles was hurt I didn't have the burst for the pass rush that I wanted to, so I had to get really good at the run then. You don't go to the Pro Bowl unless you're able to play the run."

Merriman was effective in maintaining the integrity of the right side of Buffalo's defensive front often keeping Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas from bouncing any runs outside.

"It was huge from all of us. I think we set the edge great and didn't let Reggie Bush bounce anything anywhere," he said. "When you've got a tackle like (Jake) Long out there and then you've got a tight end that can block, it's important that you set the edge. If you stay on the line of scrimmage these guys can't make big plays and that's what we did."

Bush finished with just 20 yards on 10 and the Dolphins as a team managed a total of 60 and a 2.5 yards per carry average.

Merriman dropped Thomas for a one-yard loss on a 1st-and-10 play from the Miami 36 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The drive resulted in the Dolphins missed 50-yard field goal attempt.

He lined up for 12 run plays and 10 pass plays Thursday night. Steadily Merriman's playing time has increased. He had seven snaps in Week 7 against Tennessee, eight at Houston and 14 at New England. The proud veteran still longs to be a starter again, but in the interim is carving out a role where he feels he's making a difference.

"I've been a starter my whole life since Pee Wee league," said Merriman. "It was difficult to accept it, but I understand it. I'll never accept not being a starter, but I understand what my role is and what they need me to do.

"My role is just to come in and contribute whenever I get the opportunity. I'm capable of making a big play every time I'm on the field whether they're passing the ball or running the ball. And the guys lining up behind me make that job easier for me."

For a player that was on top of the heap before injuries robbed him of that status Merriman has a greater appreciation of being part of something bigger. He's just eager to do whatever he can to help Buffalo make a run down the stretch.

"I feel like I have a certain respect from the guys in the locker room no matter whether I'm playing 15 plays or 50," he said. "Even though I don't play a lot in the games I practice hard. I work every day in the offseason. I spend all the time I need to get the game plan down and fit into it. It's about opportunities and those six, seven or eight weeks I was sitting home training, waiting for the next opportunity, all of a sudden here it is. And I get to come back and play with guys I know and guys I want to play with. I'm just glad I get to be a part of that."

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