The prevailing wisdom to this point in the Buffalo Bills' transition to a 4-3 defense is that pass rusher Shawne Merriman would make the move to defensive end. But a few sentences from BuffaloBills.com lead journalist Chris Brown could change all that, fueling speculation that Merriman may see time from the linebacker position.
A Bills fan posed this question to Brown in his weekly Fan Friday segment: "If Shawne Merriman displays he is healthy and one of the best defensive players on the team, why not start him at the outside linebacker spot they have reserved for Kirk Morrison?"
"I think this is a very valid question, and I’d be interested in asking it of (Dave) Wannstedt," said Brown of the Bills' defensive coordinator. (It should be noted that Merriman spent the entirety of spring practices working at defensive end. All of Merriman's 44.5 career sacks have come from the 3-4 outside linebacker position.)
"It feels like I'm right at home because even in some of the schemes we played in 3-4 we were in nickel, which is putting my hand in the dirt anyways," Merriman told The Buffalo News in June. "It's just like I've been doing in the past."
Brown rationalized that fact away in his answer, saying there is a good reason Merriman hasn't practiced at strong side linebacker just yet.
"I believe the reason we haven’t seen Merriman in that role to this point is the coaching staff did not know what they were going to get from the veteran pass rusher," wrote Brown. "With that kind of uncertainty placing him in a starting role in the spring might be a bit of putting the cart before the horse."
"Coaches don’t like to depend on players that aren’t exactly locks health-wise. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the staff decided to just let Merriman rush the passer in the spring workout setting and see what they get," Brown opined. "But if Merriman continues on his current path he’ll be able to handle a full-time role instead of a part-time one... Then and only then might an expanded role as a strong side linebacker even be considered, but it’s certainly a role he could handle when fully healthy."
All that flies in the face of what head coach Chan Gailey said in February, when he told The Buffalo News he would not like to see Merriman at linebacker.
"I’d rather him not," said Gailey at the time. "I think we’d rather him be a right defensive end rushing the passer all the time."
It's a situation to monitor when camp opens at St. John Fisher on July 26.