RICHMOND – Three years after they signed him as a free agent, the Washington Redskins still are waiting for Brandon Meriweather to deliver in the capacity that they envisioned. Meriweather would like to do so as well. Finally, he and his coaches believe he will have that chance.
The Redskins believed in 2012 that they were getting a hard-hitting strong safety, who would make plays for them in the box, while also possessing the versatility to drop back into coverage and disrupt opposing passing attacks.
But knee injuries forced Meriweather to miss all but one half of a game that first year with Washington.
Meriweather recovered from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in time to make his 2013 debut in Week 2. But with rookie Bacarri Rambo struggling mightily at free safety, and no one else suited to play that position, coaches moved Meriweather to free safety, and played Reed Doughty at strong safety because his strengths involved run defense. With Meriweather on the back end, Washington had a more effective last line of defense, but also diminished Meriweather’s play-making ability.
“It wasn’t uncomfortable because I did it. Half of my career I did the same thing,” said Meriweather, who played cornerback in college before moving to safety in the NFL as a rookie with New England. “It was just hard because it was hard for me to get into the game plan because I was always deep. I was never blitzing or doing anything.”
Said secondary coach Raheem Morris, “We brought him here to be a strong safety – to be a playmaker on the defense. We brought him here to make plays in the box, to run some of our blitzes. Unfortunately, we had a couple of guys get hurt. People go down. [Doughty] was the starter with him. Reed’s a box player. He’s a deluxe box player. You’re not going to take a deluxe box player and have him in the hole and put Meriweather in the box and then yell at Reed. You’re going to do what your players can do. That’s what we’ve said the last couple years, barring injury. … We’ve got to get that guy in the box because he’s an active, physical guy and when he’s out there, he makes his presence known.”
Washington finally has the pieces in place for Meriweather to return to his natural position. Offseason acquisition Ryan Clark will play free safety, and Meriweather strong safety.
The Redskins coaches believe that now they will have a chance to maximize Meriweather’s talents. He lines up closer to the line of scrimmage far more often now, but there are times, because of his versatility, when Meriweather and Clark switch off, creating different looks for the opposing offense.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III said from what he has seen, the pairing of Meriweather with Clark has significantly changed the capabilities of Washington’s secondary.
“They’re also being more aggressive on the back end,” Griffin said. “They’re giving us a ton of looks on the back end. They’re doing a ton of crap out there on the field, and having that is going only make [the defense] stronger.”
Meriweather made the Pro Bowl twice with the Patriots (2009, 2011) but has yet to recapture that form. He fell out of favor with New England’s coaches because of what they deemed to be a lack of discipline, and he never fit into the Cover-2 scheme that the Chicago Bears signed him to play in. Now fully healthy and holding the opportunity to play his natural position, Meriweather believes he can regain his impactful form.
The Redskins resigned Meriweather to a one-year deal this offseason, so he has a chance to prove that’s possible. He also will have to prove himself to be a more disciplined tackler. Meriweather received a suspension for repeatedly drawing penalties for helmet-to-helmet hits last season, coach Jay Gruden has warned him that he must lower his strike zone so he doesn’t hurt someone else, himself or his team.
Meriweather didn’t discuss specifics for how he’ll change his approach, but Gruden believes he will try.
“He wants to do the right thing but sometimes at that position though and the ball is in the air, he’s trying to knock the ball out and sometimes they unfortunately make contact head-to-head and it’s not intentional,” Gruden said earlier in training camp. “I don’t think he has the intent to injure people. I think he has the intent to get the player down and get the ball out. Sometimes those instances look worse than they are but he does have to really watch his area of target and hopefully we will keep him on the field for 16 weeks because he is much needed in the secondary.”
Meriweather also didn’t give details for his expectations for the season. He says he keeps his goals simple, and that he’s just happy to be in the situation that he finds himself in now.
“I feel great. But, for me, it’s me getting better every day,” said Meriweather, who had declined repeated interview requests during training camp before finally speaking Monday. “I’m not trying to worry about the one-year deal. I’m not worried about the deal or anything. I’m just trying to get better every day.”
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The Redskins’ joint practice with the New England Patriots on Tuesday is at 1:35 p.m. Here’s our camp guide.
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Mailbag: On Patriots practice and Ryan Clark