The retirement of Aaron Schobel prior to the 2010 season left Buffalo without a proven pass rusher. Opponents did not have to game plan for any specific threat that could put constant pressure on the quarterback if left in a one-on-one situation. It left the Bills defensive staff with the tall task of scheming up ways to develop pressure instead of relying on the talents of a proven playmaker to make things happen.
Though the pass rush looked effective at times in 2010, it was not consistent. By season's end Buffalo's defense ranked 27th in the league in sacks with 27 quarterback takedowns. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams was the team leader with 5.5.
That could all change however, with the re-signing of Shawne Merriman. A proven playmaker when healthy, and a prognosis that is positive for a full recovery from a persistent Achilles strain, Merriman could go a long way to solving Buffalo's pass rush problem.
"If this guy is healthy he can be a major force on the football field," said head coach Chan Gailey. "That is a proven fact. He has been before. He can upgrade your defense in a hurry if he plays to the level that he has played in the past. And indications are enough that we obviously feel he's going to be healthy."
Appearing on a Washington D.C. radio show last week (106.7 FM), Merriman explained why he's confident he'll be able to return to form and put his injuries of the past two seasons behind him.
"I had an Achilles strain early on this year and it's been kind of lingering for the past year," Merriman told the FAN in Washington. "It's been something that I haven't been able to take care of and I lost a little bit of explosion because I haven't been able to push off the thing. I'm grateful to be out there with the Buffalo training staff they really helped me out with this thing because they brought a lot of things to my attention that I didn't know for the past year, and figured out what the problem was. So now it's just a time thing."
With the offseason just underway Merriman has the time to get his Achilles right for the 2011 season. Knowing his prognosis is positive had his teammates excited about him being an addition to their lineup next fall.
"He's proven it in the past and he's been able to do that and create that pressure," said Dwan Edwards. "It's what we need, especially if we're a 3-4 team and stay with it, it's definitely one of the pieces we'll need."
"That was a good sign that to see that he's going to be back," said Paul Posluszny. "As long as he's healthy we all know he can be a great impact player. The type of guy that we need that can really make a difference and make some huge plays for us. We're looking forward to having him back because as long as he's healthy and he's ready to go he can be a huge player for us."
Though Merriman is a few seasons removed from playing at his peak, Buffalo hasn't added an outside linebacker with pass rush credentials like this since they signed Bryce Paup in free agency back in 1995. Paup went on to record 17.5 sacks and earn NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in his first of three seasons with Buffalo. He compiled 33 sacks in all by the time his stint with the Bills was over.
When Paup signed he was 27-years old. Merriman turns 27 in May.
And though the calling card for Merriman's career has been his pass rush ability, he's also been stout in the run front, something that's not lost on defensive lineman Marcus Stroud.
"Hopefully he can help us with the pass rush, but he was definitely a force in the run game too," said Stroud. "So hopefully he could help us shore up the edge and we can get better against the run as well."
Merriman admitted looking at Buffalo's situation from the outside when he was first claimed off waivers by the Bills the situation did not look overly appealing. But in the half season he spent at One Bills Drive his opinion of the team did a complete 180 despite never taking to the game field.
"When you get a chance to be out there and you're around the guys and around the organization it's a totally different story," Merriman told the FAN in Washington. "This is a team that's going to go out there each and every day and fight their a** off. That's one thing I loved about it. They were in just about every game this year. These are guys that I love being around that are going to go out there and lay it out on the line. So I told them I wanted to be a part of it and it changed my mentality toward the team very quick."
"He has given every indication that he wants to come (back) and make a big impact on our football team," said Gailey.