Shawne Merriman has always been larger than life -- or, at least, larger than the average National Football League linebacker.
Despite his 6-4, 276-pound frame, however, the three-time All-Pro has demonstrated a scary quickness from his outside linebacker spot, leading the San Diego Chargers in sacks all three years he has played in the league. It probably doesn't make opposing quarterbacks feel any better that Merriman's nickname is "Lights Out," supposedly earned after knocking several opposing players unconscious while at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, MD.
Heavily recruited out of high school, Merriman wound up donning the red-and-blue uniform of the nearby University of Maryland, majoring in criminal justice and disrupting Atlantic Coast Conference offenses. After three years, he pronounced himself through with college and declared for the NFL draft.
The year before, when Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning refused to sign with the Chargers, they traded him to the New York Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers and a 2005 draft pick. That pick, the 12th overall on Draft Day, turned out to be Merriman.
The big rookie immediately showed his obstinate side, however, holding out well through training camp. That cost him four games at the beginning of the 2005 season, but he had six sacks in his first four games and was eventually named the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year.
During the off-season, Merriman tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug he claimed he ingested accidentally as part of his training regimen. To his credit, he passed 19 of 20 drug tests, but the lone exception cost him a four-game suspension in 2006. Nevertheless, he finished with 17 sacks in 12 games and finished third in balloting for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Jason Taylor of Miami, who won that award, said Merriman shouldn't have even been considered because of his steroid suspension. Merriman responded by sending Taylor a "Lights Out" T-shirt and taunting Taylor for missing the playoffs.
At that point, however, Merriman's vigorous style of play for a man of his bulk began to take its toll on his massive frame. He was diagnosed with two torn ligaments in his left knee, an injury he first said he planned to "play through" in 2008. After getting a second opinion from famed orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, however, Merriman decided to allow himself to be operated on. It cost him the entire 2008 season.
In the spring of 2009, the Chargers declined to give Merriman a contract extension. Undaunted, he predicted his best season this fall -- whether with the Chargers or some other team -- declaring: "This year is going to be all about unleashing. I've got so much pent up."