Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 5/31/12

Linebacker Shawne Merriman was cleared to return practice and was on the field at the Bills' OTA session Thursday.

It's a big step for Merriman, who has battled three years of injuries, including early-season surgery to repair his Achilles' tendon in 2011. When the Bills took to the practice field Tuesday, Merriman was in Birmingham, Ala. visiting with Dr. James Andrews.

"I got final clearance to go out and participate with everything. I was hoping for good news and I got it," Merriman said. "It was the first day of practice for me anyway in a long time. I had a lot of time off. I got a chance to go back out there with the guys and put on a helmet again."

Merriman is under contract for one more season, but it's an encouraging sign that he's able to participate this early in the offseason program.

Merriman said he really hasn't been healthy for three years, and has been playing through the pain while lacking the ability to push off - when he's been able to get on the field.

"Anybody who will get a chance to watch me this year, I'll move around like I did when I came into the league," said Merriman, who is still only 28 years old. "Fortunately that's all I had really is the Achilles over the last three years. Now that we've got that taken care of I'm a lot more confident."

The Bills aren't practicing in pads and there is no contact this week, but just being back on the field is a major sign of progress. Merriman has been incorporating mixed martial arts into his workouts as he continues to work to get back into top shape.

"Obviously I have high expectations of myself. I want to go out and say I'm going to get this many sacks or I'm going to have this type of year but I'm really ready to do that. I'm really ready to go out there and show it, not really answer the questions on what kind of year I'm ready to have. The type of work that I've put in this offseason my body's ready to have that year."

Another change for Merriman is the Bills' switch to a 4-3 base defense. He has played as a 3-4 outside linebacker his entire NFL career. But if he can rejuvenate his career and provide a pass-rushing threat opposite Mario Williams, Buffalo has a potentially strong tandem to go after quarterbacks with.

"Whatever they need me to do," Merriman said of potentially playing defensive end. "That's the good thing about this defense. We have a few guys who can pass rush and have the capability of dropping in coverage."

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