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Clemson's Merling gets one last chance to impress

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Two days before the NFL draft, Phillip Merling stood on Clemson's practice field amid two dozen eager NFL observers, including Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who could change his life forever.

Yet, the Clemson defensive end, who has been injured for much of the offseason, said he wasn't nervous.

"I did what I had to do to come into this moment," Merling said Thursday.

Merling went through a smooth 25-minute workout, displaying the speed and agility that led him to give up his final year at Clemson for the NFL. He has been projected as a first-round pick.

Merling was unable to show off for NFL teams previously because of a sports hernia. He only began full workouts the past week and wanted to put aside any doubt about his health before draft day.

"I'm hard on myself," a winded Merling said when the workout was done. "I think I did well. I think I showed them I'm not hurt anymore."

Merling did not run a 40-yard dash, or do any weightlifting. Instead, he did exercises that tested his midsection and groin area.

The group of onlookers included Ed Orgeron, defensive line coach for the New Orleans Saints, and representatives from the New York Giants, Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens.

The largest contingent came from the Redskins, who have the 21st pick in the opening round. The group was headed up by their very interested owner, quarterback Jason Campbell and new coach Jim Zorn.

Zorn shook hands with Merling when the session ended. "Phillip, good luck," Zorn said.

"This is the most important thing to me before the draft, to work out in front of coaches," Merling said.

While some might have questions about his health, there's little doubt about his motivation. Merling played hurt throughout the 2007 season, Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said as he watched his former defensive star.

Merling was the only one of several eligible, talented juniors to give up his final season at Clemson. Star runner James Davis had initially declared for the draft, then successfully petitioned to return to school about a week later.

Merling, at 6-foot-4, 276 pounds, led the Tigers with seven sacks and 17 tackles for loss. He was Clemson's top tackler among the defensive line with 78.

He didn't have the standout college highlight like former teammate Gaines Adams, picked No. 4 overall last spring by Tampa Bay. Adams probably was best remembered for breaking up Wake Forest's field goal try and returning it for a TD in 2006 as Clemson rallied to defeat the Demon Deacons.

This past season, though, Merling attracted attention from opponents trying to keep him out of the backfield. He said he doesn't mind that most of the predraft hype has gone to defensive lineman such as Virginia's Chris Long and Florida's Derrick Harvey.

"Hopefully, coaches will tell each other that I worked out today and I try to compete," Merling said.

Merling's agent, Jimmy Sexton, said in his 30 years of experience he has never had a one-day workout like this so close to the draft.

"Then again, I've never had a guy go through so much to get back before," Sexton said.

Merling will watch the draft Saturday at his grandmother's home.

"I haven't had any chance to concentrate, so I hope I don't concentrate because I could get nervous when they start announcing the names," Merling said. "But I'm just going to relax tonight, relax Friday and get ready."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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