SAN DIEGO (AP) - After sprinting toward the ball carrier Sunday, Chargers linebacker Larry English would make a beeline to three-time Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman, to hear what the knowledgeable veteran had to say.
"I know for one that he was in the same position as me a few years back," said English, the team's first-round pick. "So he knows what I am going through firsthand."
A show of hands would reveal many were surprised English became a Charger. He was a pass-rushing dynamo at Northern Illinois, and the Chargers already had two players who love pestering quarterbacks: Merriman and linebacker Shaun Phillips.
But English is here - after signing his contract Saturday - and eager to show he belongs.
"It was good for the first day to get a chance to go full speed," English said after Sunday's practice. "And with the pads, it is always fun and a high-energy day, and we got some work done. Now it gets fun."
Merriman relished his role as respected mentor.
"It's my job to keep pushing and keep pushing and keep pushing," Merriman said. "He was asking what I see, and I would say something about it. As a player, that is hard to do sometimes - you don't notice it, but you notice it on the film. But before we get to the film, if I see something I'll say, 'OK, you are turning your shoulders here, or you're taking off like this.' It's just what I see out there.
"But the work ethic is there and the want-to-make-a-play is there. So everything else, you are just going to learn by being in this league."
English's lessons to rivals in college were impressive. He was a three-time All-Mid-American Conference selection and set school marks in career sacks (31.5) and tackles for losses (63). He was named the conference's top players twice and was only the second defensive player to ever win it.
Although he was the big man on the Northern Illinois campus, he doesn't have to be all-everything in San Diego.
"We have so many talented players on this team I'm just looking to learn, get better and prove my worth," the 6-foot-2, 255-pound English said.
The Chargers haven't been shy in predicting that English will have a key role this season. While it's doubtful he will unseat Merriman or Phillips for a starting spot, English will be part of the rotation. Plus, coach Norv Turner said he occasionally expects all three to be on the field at once.
But first English needs to get up to NFL speed and make the adjustment in moving from a 4-3 alignment to the Chargers' 3-4.
"The biggest thing I need to do right now is mentally get into the playbook," said English, who played on the right and left sides Sunday. "When you don't have to think, that is when you can shine the most."
Merriman sees a bright light in English.
"I like the way he gets after the ball and the way he works," Merriman said. "That is the most you can ask out of a player."
And English is open to Merriman's tips.
"His past four years in the league, the accomplishments he has made, they speak for themselves," English said. "I want a little bit of that to rub off on me."
But first English has to survive his rookie camp - and that includes carting Phillips' helmet back and forth to the practice field, a timeworn tradition.
"It's just a little thing you have to go through as a rookie," Phillips said. "We don't haze anyone, and we won't make him do anything too crazy, but we'll give him a little bit of hell."
English is fine with that, saying a little helmet duty here and there "comes with the territory." He also is on board being in San Diego, a destination few thought possible considering the players already on its roster.
"I can't say I was surprised, just because I was ready for the unexpected," English said. "That is one thing throughout the process everyone was beating in my head, that you never know what is going to happen. So I was ready for something to come out of left field.
"I landed in a good situation so I am happy and couldn't ask for anything more."
If he does need something answered, he'll just turn to Merriman.
"That is what you are supposed to," Merriman said of sharing his knowledge. "You owe it to the game, period, to do it."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.