SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers must play their next four games without outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, one of the NFL's top young stars, who decided Tuesday not to appeal his suspension for testing positive for steroids.
Merriman's suspension is another blow to one of the NFL's toughest defenses, which has been hit by injuries and off-field trouble since before the season started. Nicknamed "Lights Out" because of his punishing hits, he'll be shut down for games at home against Cleveland, at Cincinnati, at Denver and at home against the Oakland Raiders.
Merriman, who's tied for the NFL lead with 8 1/2 sacks, and his attorney have blamed a tainted supplement for the player's positive test for the steroid nandrolone. Merriman couldn't be reached for comment.
The suspension won't officially begin until after Merriman addresses his teammates on Wednesday. After that, he'll be barred from the team's headquarters until he's eligible to return on Nov. 27.
The Chargers, who were off Tuesday, vowed to press on without Merriman, a Pro Bowl starter who was voted the 2005 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"He's upset because he let his team down, but we're OK," outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said in a phone interview. "We're behind him 100 percent. We know he's not that kind of guy, that he wouldn't do anything to boost his performance.
"We're a good team. We'll get over it," said Phillips, who moved into the starting lineup after Steve Foley was shot by an off-duty police officer on Sept. 3. Phillips missed Sunday's 38-24 win over the St. Louis Rams with a calf injury and has only a 50 percent chance of playing against the Browns.
Had Merriman gone through with the appeal and lost, there was the chance he'd miss both games against Denver. The Chargers host the Broncos on Dec. 10. Few people expected Merriman to win on appeal because the NFL holds players accountable for knowing the contents of the supplements they take.
Word of Merriman's positive test leaked on Oct. 22. Merriman announced last Tuesday he was appealing, and matched his career-high with three sacks against the Rams. He celebrated each as he usually does, by pretending to flip a switch tattooed on his forearm followed by a spasmodic dance.
Carlos Polk is expected to start in Merriman's place.
"We're obviously going to support Shawne and we'll prepare for the alternatives much the way we would if we had a player who wasn't available for other reasons," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "We'll put the pieces together and go back to work."
Merriman apologized to his teammates last Monday for the distraction his positive test caused. But Schottenheimer and other players said it would be a distraction only if they let it.
"The way we performed with this information out there would indicate it was not a distraction," Schottenheimer said.
While Phillips is expected to be listed as questionable for the Browns game, end Igor Olshansky (knee) is expected to be doubtful due to a knee injury.
General manager A.J. Smith and Merriman's attorney, David Cornwell, didn't return calls seeking comment.
The team released this statement:
"We're proud of the standup way Shawne has taken responsibility for the mistake he made. We have faith in Shawne Merriman and we have faith in the players on this team. The Chargers have been resilient all season long, and we will continue to be resilient. It's a tough lesson learned for Shawne about the world of supplements."
Besides Merriman's suspension, the Chargers have had five separate off-field issues dating back to April.
Foley was shot three times near his suburban home early on Sept. 3 by an off-duty police officer who suspected him of drunk driving. Foley will miss the entire season and was charged with two counts of DUI.
Safety Terrence Kiel was arrested on five felony drug counts in September and has pleaded not . He missed one game.
Cornerback Markus Curry, who had been demoted to the practice squad, was released on Oct. 9, just hours after he was arrested on suspicion of committing domestic violence.
Foley and Phillips were each arrested for scuffling with San Diego police officers a week apart in April. Neither was charged.