GREEN BAY – Phillip Merling is getting a second chance – at least for the first few weeks of the season. Whether his time with the Green Bay Packers extends beyond that is really up to him and what he can contribute on the defensive line.
The former Miami Dolphins second-round pick (No. 32 overall in 2008) was a disappointment in his first go-round with , but the Packers scooped him up this spring and he wound up beating out nose tackle Daniel Muir for the sixth and final defensive line spot on the 53-man roster coming out of training camp.
“It’s exciting to go ahead and start over,” Merling said this week. “It’s like going into my rookie year with a new team and learning the scheme and the players.”
While Muir had the better camp, the 27-year-old Merling fits the 3-4 defensive end mold (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) and plays a greater position of need, according to general manager Ted Thompson.
“All these position-specific things were difficult cuts and in the case of Daniel Muir, very difficult. A very passionate young man,” Thompson said following the cuts. “The NFL is like a wheel – it goes round and round like a wheel, you never know when somebody might be back. In the case of Phillip, we thought he played very well. We thought he especially gave us a little inside push in that last game (against Kansas City last Thursday). (His) body-type (is) a little bit longer and taller, that sort of thing.”
Merling doesn’t have the luxury of thinking that he’s made it, however. With Mike Neal having put on a strong performance against Kansas City in the preseason finale last Thursday in advance of his four-game NFL suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, there’s little doubt that Neal will regain his roster spot when he returns after the fourth game. With two rookie draft picks – second-rounder Jerel Worthy and fourth-rounder Mike Daniels – already in the mix, there’s not much wiggle room on the roster.
That means that, barring injury, someone will have to go. It’s up to Merling to prove it shouldn’t be him, and that he deserves to keep his fresh start going.
“I feel like this has been a great change. The team, the coaching staff, they wiped me a clean slate – no judgment. It’s all been football, which has been helpful,” Merling said. “I love it. Flying underneath the radar and doing what I need to do – I’m fine with the guys that got drafted here getting all the (attention). I’ve seen that before. Just go ahead and work, work, work and let my play on Sundays determine who I am as a football player.”
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