Merriman is a changed man

September 09, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Program note: This is another chapter in the continuing saga of the De-evolution of Shawne Merriman.

Over the years, Merriman has changed before University of Maryland fans' eyes. There aren't any bolts in Merriman's neck nor is his transformation part of a horror flick - that is, unless you're a Terrapins opponent - but it can be scary.

The tell-tale sign that Merriman has changed is simple. He came to Maryland as a freshman walking on his two legs. Now when you see him, he's on all fours.

Merriman has gone from mild-mannered high school linebacker and receiver to full-fledged defensive end in his stint at Maryland. Along the way, Merriman has changed from a tight end hopeful, to linebacker, to LEO (which stands for Linebacker-End Option), to the left-side anchor on Maryland's defensive line.


And Merriman's constant change has been fueled by some hard work, some not-so-gentle coaxing from his opponents and some guidance from a good friend.

"It's been hard. I started out as a 230-pound freshman going up against tackles who were a lot bigger and stronger than I was," Merriman said. "I'd get a couple of good hits in early, but it would go downhill from there fast. I had to get stronger and as I got stronger, I picked up more."

The pounding helped convince Merriman to build himself into the 6-foot-4, 245-pound specimen he is now. He got tips on how to play the linebacking position by talking to and training with Washington Redskins star LaVar Arrington, who watches all his games.

"LaVar is like my big brother who I can go to and ask questions," Merriman said. "I got to know him when his younger brother transfered to my high school (Frederick Douglass in Upper Marlboro, Md.). He'd come to my games and we became good friends."

Not even Arrington could foresee what has become of Merriman in coach Ralph Friedgen's laboratory.

When Merriman first set foot on Maryland's campus, he came with the notion of being a linebacker and tight end for the Terps, playing both ways.

"I wanted to play tight end because I was a wide receiver in high school," Merriman said. "I told Coach that and he told me I was asking too much. I'd go back and ask him again, he'd say, 'Talk to me tomorrow.'"

Merriman soon learned that pass catching wasn't in his future. No one had to tell him ... he just felt it.

"When you take so many snaps on defense and then come over to play offense, man," Merriman said. "If I would play both ways and then on the special teams, I'd really have to get an IV as I walk off the field."

The move to LEO last year was enough to take Merriman's mind off of the tight end slot. The position mixed the principles of playing linebacker with those of a down lineman. Merriman would be rushing the quarterback out of a stance on one play and covering a receiver in a pattern on the next.

"I tried to do all I could to get back to a linebacker role," Merriman said. "Not everyone could play the position I played. It was different. I was taking on someone and after a couple of big hits where I got to show my size and speed, then I would have to show I could run with a reciever and hit him with a tackle. And I worked hard at it, no matter if I liked it or not."

Now, after standing erect for most of his football career, Maryland has Merriman on his knuckles and hunched over in a straight end position. It gives Maryland a chance to revamp its line with a player who is now one of those guys who used to beat up on him as a tight end in the old days.

He debuted in the position last Saturday in a 23-20 win over Northern Illinois and finished with 10 tackles, including three for 17 yards in losses.

The move kind of brought the animal out in Merriman.

"One day, I'm hurt. The next day, I'm fine," Merriman said. "I kind of feel like a wolverine."

One thing is for certain. The Terps are hoping for Shawne Merriman to be a howling success on the defense.

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