There is not a single Buffalo Bills player that I'm more interested to see on the field when the 2011 season begins than outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. No other player comes close, and the rationale shouldn't be hard to pick up on: the Bills desperately need a pass rush, and Merriman was once the most feared sack artist in the entire NFL.
By now, everyone knows Merriman's story. The former Chargers star has appeared in 18 games over the past three seasons, dealing with several major injuries along the way. San Diego placed him on waivers last year before the Bills had won a game, and Buddy Nix quickly added him to the roster. 15 minutes into his first practice with the team, Merriman had picked up another injury and was done for the year. Two months later, the Bills had given him a two-year, $10.5 million contract.
Recent articles that the 27-year-old is being counted on as the sole source of pass rush for the Bills this year are overblown. However, the sentiment behind those articles - that the three-time Pro Bowl player is a central figure to the team's efforts to improve defensively - are accurate. Nothing will change for the Bills if Merriman doesn't pan out or can't stay healthy. But there's no question that even a partial return to form would do wonders for the Bills' beleaguered defense.
Your clue for the No. 3 player on this list, which will not publish until Monday morning: his is one of nine uniforms that you can purchase from the BuffaloBills.com in the new home colors.