Lights Out: Bills LB Merriman feeling rejuvenated

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) - Running back Fred Jackson took the handoff and was in the midst of making his first step forward when linebacker Shawne Merriman was suddenly all over him.

“I didn’t see him coming,” Jackson said Tuesday, recalling what happened a day earlier during a Buffalo Bills full-team session at training camp.

Had this been a game, Jackson knows he would’ve been flattened. Fortunately, this was practice, and Jackson got away with being on the receiving end of a two-hand shove that still knocked him back a few steps.

What’s unmistakable to Jackson regarding Merriman is quite simple: “He’s back.”

Indeed, he just might be. Five days into camp in suburban Rochester, Merriman is starting to look and feel like his old self again.

Lights out?

“Almost,” Merriman said with a wink upon mention of the “Lights Out” nickname he picked up early in his career when he was one of the NFL’s fiercest hitters. “I’m not going to say I’m back-back yet because we still have a lot of time before we really have to strap on the pads and go. But every day I’m feeling a little bit better.”

That’s good news for Merriman, who had been slowed by a series of injuries and distracted by contract squabbles and off-the-field questions for much of the past three years. And it’s significant news for the Bills, who last November took a gamble on the three-time Pro Bowl selection by claiming him off waivers after being released by San Diego.

Last year, Merriman lasted no more than 15 minutes in his first Bills practice before he came up limping, hobbled by a sore right Achilles’ tendon that led to him being placed on injured reserve.

This year, after being re-signed to a two-year contract on Jan. 1, Merriman hasn’t missed a minute.

“To be quite honest with you, two months ago, I don’t think anybody, maybe not even Shawne, had a vision of where he wanted to be and what he could do. We didn’t,” assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt said. “Was it going to be just walkthroughs, was it going to be half-speed tempo? And the guy has done everything that every other player on this field has done. That’s been a real positive.”

Merriman benefited from the extended layoff that came with the 4-1/2-month NFL lockout. Though he worked out on his own, the time off gave his body an opportunity to heal.

Part of his regimen included a six-week stint of mixed martial arts training with retired MMA stars Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell.

“I got leaner, dropped a couple of pounds. And it’s helping me move a little better, too,” Merriman said.

Now that he’s healthy, he’s also regained his drive to return to his once dominating form and help transform the Bills into winners.

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