Offseason questions: Can the Redskins count on Brandon Meriweather?

February 19, 2013

Strong safety Brandon Meriweather played only 41 snaps in 2012. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

He was supposed to be the healthier, more reliable, and more affordable alternative to re-signing oft-injured strong safety LaRon Landry, but Brandon Meriweather never managed to give the Redskins an extended look at his ability in 2012.

Dismissed in New England despite back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances in 2009 and 2010, and a bad fit in Chicago’s defense the following year, Meriweather saw Washington as the ideal place to get his career back on track.

But a right knee injury in the preseason, followed by setbacks in Weeks 1 and 4 of the regular season, kept him from playing a game until Week 11. Meriweather’s season debut lasted only a half before he tore his ACL in the same knee and was lost for the season.

In those 41 snaps, Meriweather recorded seven tackles, two pass deflections and an interception, which he returned 25 yards.

By the time the Redskins cleaned out their lockers at the completion of their season on Jan. 7, Meriweather was walking around without crutches. But he was still far from 100 percent and said he was taking only baby steps toward full recovery. Last week Meriweather declined an interview request.

He and the Redskins hope, however, that he will be back to full speed some time this offseason and well before the start of training camp. The belief is that a healthy Meriweather could significantly improve a struggling secondary in 2013 because of the versatility he offers and his aggressive style of play.

Questions will continue to loom over the former University of Miami standout for a good while, however.

It remains to be seen what kind of player Meriweather will be when he recovers. Will he still have the same speed and explosiveness that made him a playmaker in New England? Or, will he struggle with consistency as he did in Chicago, where he wound up benched after only four games?

Meriweather has said repeatedly that the style and philosophy of Jim Haslett’s defense  more closely resembles those of the Patriots, and he doesn’t believe his Chicago struggles will repeate themselves in D.C.

But a knee that is slow to heal, or one that reduces Meriweather to a lesser player, will prolong the Redskins’ long-standing issues at safety.  Inconsistent backups DeJon Gomes, Reed Doughty and Jordan Pugh, and unproven second-year player Jordan Bernstine (who missed most of the year with a torn ACL), remain under contract.

This week Mike Shanahan, Jim Haslett and their assistants, and Washington’s front office personnel will travel to Indianapolis where they will evaluate talent at the NFL Scouting Combine. It’s no secret that the Redskins need a free safety after Madieu Williams struggled mightily last season. But will Washington’s officials spend time evaluating strong safeties as well? That answer would seem to be ‘yes,’ given the uncertainties surrounding Meriweather’s knee.

Follow Mike Jones on Twitter.

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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