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We’re about to find out how good the Chargers’ defense is without Shawne Merriman applying pass rush pressure.

Merriman, a three-time Pro Bowler who had hoped to play as long as possible this season on his injured knee, informed the Chargers Tuesday he would undergo season-ending surgery to repair torn ligaments.

Merriman didn’t have a sack — as a team, the Chargers had only one sack — in the Bolts’ season-opening upset loss Sunday to the Carolina Panthers.

The Chargers released a statement from general manager A.J. Smith:

“Shawne informed me he did not feel right (on the field) and thought it best to shut it down. The road to winning the AFC West just got more difficult, but not impossible.  Nothing is impossible.  Shawne is a great player and an inspirational leader.  He will be missed.  We wish him a successful surgery and a speedy recovery.”

We’re also about to find out how strong Jyles Tucker is as a linebacker. He started the 2007 season on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent.

But he sure looked good as Merriman’s replacement at the end of last season, especially in the Oakland game when he had three sacks, forcing a fumble on one he recovered for a touchdown, and was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

On the other side is “The Other Guy,” a label Shaun Phillips got saddled with while playing in Merriman’s shadow. Phillips will draw more double-teams, but this is also his opportunity.

He can make a Pro Bowl simply by duplicating his past seasons that were overshadowed by Merriman’s play. After all, he got his label when an opposing coach said “the other guy’s pretty good, too.”

At the end of the preseason, Merriman visited doctors around the country for opinions on whether he could play on the knee. He has a torn posterior cruciate ligament and a tear in the lateral collateral ligament.

A tear to the anterior cruciate ligament, like the season-ending one suffered by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday, is more serious and requires surgery before play can resume.

Merriman’s decision to attempt to play this season goes back to what I said in an earlier blog. Football is still a game for him. He wanted to play. He ignored those who say that the game is a business and he was risking future injury.

How can you criticize the guy for that? Plenty did, and will continue to find fault with how he approached this season, but I don’t know why.

— TOM SHANAHAN

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