Chargers' Merriman named defensive rookie of year
NEW YORK -- Shawne Merriman's relentless style of play made an immediate mark in the NFL, earning him The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
The San Diego linebacker, known as "Lights Out" for his hard hits and aggressive demeanor, received 28½ votes Wednesday from a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league. He easily beat Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who got 16½.
All the players receiving votes played linebacker in some form this season. Behind Merriman and Tatupu were Odell Thurman of Cincinnati with four votes and DaMarcus Ware of Dallas with one.
While all of them were standouts, Merriman showed the most explosiveness and made more spotlight-grabbing plays. As anyone with the nickname "Lights Out" would expect.
After being picked 12th in the draft out of Maryland, Merriman had a shaky start with the Chargers when his agent held him out of offseason workouts until he signed a contract. Despite fears of protracted negotiations, he missed only a week of training camp before signing a deal potentially worth $15.73 million, with $9 million guaranteed.
Merriman caused some concern when he hurt his knee in the final exhibition game and missed the season opener. He made up for it with a succession of big plays for the Chargers, especially after becoming a starter on Oct. 23 at Philadelphia.
"I think anybody who goes as high as I did in the draft should be planning to be a game-changer, point blank," he said. "I figured somewhere down the line, if I learned fast enough and stuck by these older guys, sit back and learn as much as I could, that I could get out here and perform, that was really it. I've got a bunch of great teammates, and you almost can't go wrong being around those guys, with their years of experience."
Merriman finished with a team-high 10 sacks among his 54 tackles. He made his biggest headlines when San Diego handed Indianapolis its first loss in Game 14. Merriman sacked Peyton Manning twice, including once with a monster swipe at Manning's legs.
"I didn't know I took him completely off his feet with one swipe. When that happened, I just looked and said, 'Man, that was a cool play.' It took me a while before I realized I still had to do the 'Lights Out' dance because I didn't know I sacked him," the extroverted Merriman said.
Even Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer would chuckle at Merriman's words of wisdom.
"Shawne, of course, he's something," Schottenheimer said. "He's an extremely talented young man who brings it every snap.
"I frankly told him that he surpassed my expectations. I thought he played extremely well. He's very, very competitive. He's bright. Given the fact he went through a number of circumstances prior to getting the opportunity to come in and start and play, I was pleasantly surprised."
Merriman is the first Chargers player to win the award. He also is the third straight linebacker and fifth in the last six years to win.
Last year's top rookie defender was Jonathan Vilma of the Jets.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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