In the weeks of additional time to scheme and adjust their own playbooks this offseason, Buffalo's defensive staff has one player for whom they've been drawing up specific plays. His name is Shawne Merriman. Though his NFL resume is proven, injuries the past two seasons have kept him from putting his game changing ability into action on Sundays. Defensive coordinator George Edwards knows what Merriman is capable of, but the linebacker's ability will have to reveal itself again before Buffalo's defensive plans are put into action.
"Our biggest deal is to get him healthy, get him out there, see where he's at and go from there," Edwards said. "I think he's got something that he wants to go out and prove that he can play at that level again and get back healthy to do it."
Edwards has long been a proponent of devising a scheme flexible enough to fit the talents of his players. In Merriman he may very well have a player with an equally flexible skill set.
"The injuries he's had over the past couple of years have been unfortunate," said Edwards. "I think we all know what kind of player he's proven to be."
"He may cover the tight end better so you let him do that more," said Bills outside linebackers coach Bob Sanders. "He may rush better so you let him do that more. He may drop in a zone better so you let him do that more. All those things are part of the package that George and Chan (Gailey) have in for us and we're flexible enough to have all the mechanisms to take advantage of all the things he can do."
Edwards and Sanders poured over San Diego tape before they picked up Merriman off waivers last year around midseason. They found value in looking at what the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker was able to do in the Chargers scheme even if Merriman was not 100 percent.
"Even when he played hurt a little bit he made quite a few plays," said Sanders. "I've been in the league a long time so I have a pretty good handle on who he was and what he can do and the kind of person that he is and the toughness that he brings to the team and the leadership. The professionalism with which he approaches the game every week, those things are what's important. He has all of those intangibles."
"Coaching in a 3-4 over the last couple of years and seeing him play in a 3-4 you know this guy and you've seen him play at that level," said Edwards. "I'm very familiar with a lot of the terms and the things that he's used in the past. There are some similarities schematically in terms of what we're doing and what we plan to ask him to do."
How much he's asked to do however, will largely depend on how effectively he can prove that his trademark power and explosion are alive and well. And that's something that won't happen until the players are back on the practice field with their coaching staffs.
"The proof is in the pudding so getting out there and doing it and seeing it every day and accountability with those kinds of things is what we're looking for," said Edwards.
"We know a lot about him because we've studied him," said Sanders. "He's a true professional. He's a gym rat. He loves the game. He loves to play. He's done a lot of good things and he's a good athlete. We've got a pretty good idea on what we think he'll be capable of doing. I'm just moving full steam ahead so that we're prepared so when he's here we're ready to go."