SAN DIEGO -- Shawne Merriman was back at work Monday with an eye on the future.
The San Diego Chargers' imposing linebacker, who missed all but one game last season because of an injury to his left knee, wants to be able to make a contribution this year.
"I just want to help the team get back what we lacked last year -- nastiness and intensity and being physical," Merriman said. "I think that's where you notice it, being away from the game. Some of the things that I was really good at doing, that is motivating everybody else, getting everybody else to take their game to another level."
Merriman reported to training camp Monday along with the quarterbacks, rookies and other players coming off injuries. The balance of the Chargers' squad checks in Thursday, with a full-team workout scheduled Friday.
The Chargers' medical staff kept Merriman out of team drills.
"I think that will come later on, don't know the timeline for that," Merriman said. "But hopefully I'm not out much longer."
The Chargers are hoping Merriman's knack for pestering quarterbacks -- he had 39.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons -- will spill over to the secondary. If Merriman can wreck his usual havoc in opposing backfields, that could mean more interception opportunities for cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie. They combined for just four picks last season.
"I'm looking to see those guys' numbers to go back up and us being one of the best defenses in the NFL," Merriman said. "And it's going to take a lot of work and for me, my work starts today."
Quarterback Philip Rivers was upbeat after seeing Merriman race around the field.
"He looks ready," Rivers said. "Everyone can see how he looks physically. He looks as good as he's looked since he's been here. I know he's champing at the bit to get out there. I'm sure (they'll) ease back in, but he was out there today doing some different things. He's excited, and I know we're excited to have him back out there with us."
"His workouts have been outstanding," Turner said. "His strength is good. He's ready to get going."
But Turner said the team will be prudent in handling Merriman.
"We're going to monitor where Shawne is, and if he needs some rest, we'll give it to him," he said. "We have time, and we'll be smart about how we get him ready."
Turner hinted that Merriman likely will see action in the preseason.
"I'd expect him to play early," Turner said. "We don't have to make those decisions for a couple weeks, but when he's ready to go and we're comfortable with his health, then he'll play."
Merriman is eager to show he still has it.
"I better get one play, man," Merriman said. "I will be furious if I don't get one play. I might not make (the tackle), but I just want to hit somebody and go to the sidelines. I expect to play a little bit. Hopefully, I will be allowed to get on the field."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press