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Merriman placed on IR, will be cut by Chargers once healthy

The San Diego Chargers have turned out the lights on the player known as "Lights Out."

Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, once one of the NFL's most-feared players, was placed on injured reserve because of a calf injury and a "minor-injury designation" Wednesday. Merriman must be released once he's healthy, the team said.

Technically, the Chargers could re-sign the controversial player. That almost certainly won't happen, though, because general manager A.J. Smith hasn't been a fan of Merriman's celebrity-leaning lifestyle.

Known as "Lights Out" because of his once-ferocious hits, Merriman had 39½ sacks in his first three seasons. He has had just four in the three seasons since then because of a variety of injuries.

The NFL suspended Merriman for four games in 2006 after testing positive for steroids. Even though he missed the four games, he had 17 sacks that season. Merriman blamed the positive test on a tainted supplement, which he never identified.

Merriman also brought unwanted attention off the field. He was arrested just before the 2009 season after reality television star Tila Tequila accused him of battery and false imprisonment at his suburban San Diego home. No charges were filed, and Merriman and Tequila settled dueling lawsuits.

Merriman missed most of the 2008 season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery. He had four sacks last season as he tried to regain his hard-hitting form. After sitting out most offseason workouts and part of training camp to protest his contract status, he was slowed by an Achilles' injury and then a calf injury.

Merriman had just five tackles and no sacks in limited action for the Chargers this season.

Smith didn't return a call seeking comment.

Merriman, who reportedly has been on the trading block for some time, declined to comment when contacted via e-mail. However, a publicist released a statement in which Merriman was quoted as saying, "I am approaching this situation as an opportunity to grow as a player and to bring my leadership and talents to a new organization. I am ready for the next chapter in my career and I am excited about the opportunity to continue my journey with a new team."

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Chargers coach Norv Turner said he doesn't believe Merriman's recent injuries were related to his knee surgery two years ago.

"He's had these muscle deals and he hasn't let it heal," Turner said.

"We've been trying hard to get Shawne back on the field," Turner said. "It's been a process that we've worked real hard it and it just wasn't happening. I think this will give him the chance to get healthy without the pressure of trying to get ready to play. We need guys to play games."

Asked if the prognosis was so bad that it wasn't worth holding onto Merriman's rights for the rest of the season, Turner said: "Those are questions regarding long-term, and I'm not going to get into that right now."

Fellow outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said he was sad to see Merriman go.

"For mem it's upsetting because he was a friend of mine. That's why it's hard to see him go," Phillips said "But I've found that this league stands for 'Not For Long' for a reason. I've seen hundreds of people come and go. I wish him the best and he's the homie, he's a good friend of mine, so I know he's going to do good whatever he decides to do."

Merriman was the 12th overall pick in the 2005 draft, coming to the Chargers with one of the picks that Smith acquired from the New York Giants in the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers 2004 draft-day swap. Merriman was The AP's Defensive Rookie of the Year after recording 10 sacks in 2005. He made the Pro Bowl after each of his first three seasons and was named All-Pro in 2006 despite the suspension.

The Chargers drafted outside linebacker Larry English in the first round in 2009 as Merriman's eventual replacement. However, English had just two sacks last season. He recently had foot surgery and has missed three games, and he is expected to miss two to four more games.

The Chargers (2-3), who are struggling because of special teams breakdowns and turnovers, signed linebacker Antwan Barnes to take Merriman's roster spot.

Barnes spent his first three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 4 for a seventh-round pick. Barnes was waived by the Eagles on Saturday.

Barnes had five sacks in three seasons with Baltimore, and he intercepted a pass thrown by San Diego's Philip Rivers when the Ravens faced the Chargers in 2009.

San Diego also added wide receiver Kole Heckendorf to the practice squad and signed rookie long snapper Mike Windt -- the team's fifth long snapper of the season.

Ethan Albright, who was signed Sept. 28, was released three days after having two punts blocked during a 35-27 loss at Oakland. One blocked punt bounced through the end zone for a safety, and the other was returned for a touchdown, helping Oakland to a quick 12-0 lead.

Turner said Albright "is a good snapper. He's got some limitations in coverage, and there's a young guy available that we think can help in our protections and help us in our coverage." Turner added that Windt did well in a tryout, and the Chargers evaluated his snaps from his preseason games with the Cincinnati Bengals, who released him in late August.

"Every guy at some point has to do it for the first time," Turner said. "And yeah, you are anxious. But he's a talented guy that I think will be good for us this week and long-term."

Windt didn't watch Sunday's special teams debacle in Oakland.

"I heard that they were having some issues all year, but it's a shame what happened last week," he said. "I really haven't looked at it in depth, so I really can't comment on it. You can tell they've been having issues. Let's just hope I fix it."

Albright snapped in the last two games for the Chargers, who also have allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns and one punt return for a score.

San Diego's long snapper woes started when 17-year veteran David Binn went on injured reserve after the season opener. James Dearth and Ryan Neill soon joined Binn on IR.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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