GREEN BAY – Phillip Merling doesn’t know where this will lead, and for now, he’s not worried about that. The ex-Miami Dolphins defensive end is focused on getting in shape and getting into the Green Bay Packers’ playbook to give himself a chance to make the most of this fresh start.
A keen disappointment for the Dolphins as the 32nd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Merling caught on with the Packers on May 23 after being cut by the Dolphins before the draft. He signed a one-year deal worth the four-year veteran minimum of $700,000 with no signing bonus.
Merling joins a crowded defensive line rotation that has now seen five relatively prominent additions this spring: Draft picks Jerel Worthy (second round) and Mike Daniels (fourth round), unrestricted free agent Anthony Hargrove, and street free agents Daniel Muir and Merling. Hargrove (eight games) and Mike Neal (four games) are both facing suspensions to start the season.
“The scheme suits me,” he said. “It’s a little bit more athletic than just two-gapping, knock-you-back all the time. That plays into what I like doing.”
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Merling, 27, started only three games in four years in Miami before his release April 23. He suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon and played in only five games in 2010, then played in 10 games (one start) last season, when he finished with four tackles on defense.
“It feels like a new start, a new beginning,” Merling said after Tuesday’s organized team activity practice – the first open-to-the-public practice he’d participated in. “Just play football. That’s what I like doing. To get the opportunity to do it again, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
According to defensive coordinator Dom Capers, Merling looks the part as a defensive end in his scheme, although Merling appeared to be a bit out of shape at first glance Tuesday.
“He’s a big guy that has length to him,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said last week. “Kind of your classic 3-4 ends are those taller guys, and he was very well thought of when he came out. He’s played in a different scheme, but a couple of years ago, (Miami) played some 3-4. I think with his size and his length that he’s got a number of things you look for in a 3-4 end. We’ll just have to see how fast he picks up what we’re doing and where he’ll fit in to things.”
While waiting for another team to call following his release by the Dolphins, Merling’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, had him train with former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Chuck Smith, who has been doing private training with draft prospects in recent years.
“(It’s been) very humbling,” Merling said. “I never thought that would happen to me. Nobody does. Even if you’re a free agent, when you come into a program, you’re not thinking your going to be cut. That’s the wrong way to approach anything. But it happened and I learned from it and it took me back down. I’m here to work. It’s over with. That section’s done. Now it’s time to be a Green Bay Packer.”
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