Three lost seasons have not ruined Shawne Merriman's optimism or love for the game of football.
"I have so much self motivation. Nobody has to kick me in my butt to get me going," he said. "I wake up for it and I love it and I am anxious to get back on top. There is no other way to put that, other than me getting ready for the season, me being excited to be around these guys and put something together. That is what we are doing here, we are putting something great together and I am just happy to be a part of that."
The Buffalo Bills' defensive end is also fully aware you've heard that before. After just five games last season, he was shut down because of a problematic Achilles tendon injury that had bothered him since 2009. Surgery was finally performed in November, and Merriman is at long last healthy.
He doesn't, however, feel like this is his last chance to resur-rect a once-promising career that has been crippled by injuries.
"I don't ever look at it like that. I think that two years ago was my last chance. This sport, man, it's a privilege; it is a privilege to play, so every time you approach the field you have to say this is my last play I am going to be able to take," he said. "That has always been my attitude and that is why I was battling deciding to have the surgery or not for [so] long because when you have something like that done you're like, 'is this it?'
"As long as I keep a positive mind frame, I have overcome a lot of things. Nothing at this point is going to stop me, but me. I am going to have that attitude for the remainder of my career. I am just happy to be in a situation that I am now."
Merriman was at ease this week as the Bills started their voluntary offseason conditioning program. While he wouldn't put a percentage on his recovery, he said it's been two months since he was cleared to work out again, and he'll be under few restrictions as he prepares for training camp.
"I had my first real offseason in a long time because I wasn't able to train some years before, so it's been going well so far," he said.
It's easy to be skeptical. Merriman has played just 23 of a possible 64 games the past four seasons. Over that time, he has just five sacks after starting his career with 39.5 in three years.
"It was something that was really hard to deal with and frustrating because you don't want to go into the season uncertain or not able to do certain things or restricting yourself," he said. "I am not a restriction kind of guy. I want to go out and be able to do everything that the rest of my teammates are doing. I just wasn't capable of doing that."
The Bills don't have much to lose by finding out if Merriman can finally return to form.
That's because of how much they've already lost. Merriman has been paid $7.95 million by the team since he was claimed off waivers from San Diego in 2010. He's due $4 million in salary for the 2012 season, of which $3 million is guaranteed. At this point, the Bills would save $1 million by cutting Merriman or keep him for the final year of his contract and hope that they get some kind of production out of nearly $11 million.
If Merriman is to make an impact for Buffalo, it will come as a defensive end in Buffalo's new 4-3 scheme under defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. Merriman said he had met with Wannstedt and called it a "great" conversation, but didn't get into specifics on what his role on the defense will be.
"With the new guys that we brought in with Mario [Williams] and Mark [Anderson], those guys being in here, people try to put too much into trying to figure it out," he said.
"Whenever you can play football, you can play football. It is up to the coaches. Let the coaches go out and decide where they need the guys at. As long as everybody has that same mind frame and knows that's the case, then we will be good."
Merriman turns 28 next month.
"I am just excited to get back on top because I'm going to get there. I believe if you work hard enough, you stay positive and you're not worried about the negative distractions -- you will get there."