For every big decision coaches and doctors and trainers make, such as whether Robert Griffin III should have been allowed to go back into the Seattle game last January, there are a hundred little ones that are less public, less hotly debated, and perhaps harder to resolve.
Safety Brandon Meriweather is one of those decisions. The headline in Friday’s Washington Post read “Stage again is set for Meriweather to play.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? In the old days, a typesetter would have tucked that string of hopeful metal into a drawer, knowing it would be used again. And again.
For the fifth time in two seasons, Washington is preparing for a game with the assumption that Meriweather will be able to play. They’ve been right once. Meriweather has played in one of 17 regular season games since the beginning of last season. Knee injuries were the culprit. He was close to playing several times. Once he was knocked out by his own teammate in pregame warmups. He got healthy enough for one game last season, against Philadelphia, and played well — with an interception, two breakups and seven tackles — before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The world watched Griffin rehab his knee and followed his progress via his T-shirt messages. Meriweather’s rehab was not as publicized, but apparently successful — he was ready to start the season opener against Philadelphia. Until he injured his groin.
So is this guy made of papier-mache or is he the unluckiest player on the roster? These are the questions that keep general managers up at night, that keep fans debating and make coaches crazy. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett knows by now not to get his hopes up, saying of Meriweather’s possible return: “I’d love to have him back. I haven’t seen him play for so long, I’m not sure. But hopefully — I said the same thing last week. I thought he was going to play last week and he didn’t. So we’ll see.”
“We’ll see” is not exactly a ringing endorsement, but what can you expect at this point? If Griffin was considered “rusty” in the opener, what would you expect from a guy who has played in your system for almost an entire game?
At some point — maybe Sunday — Meriweather will play an entire game without injury. Then maybe another. He’ll probably have an interception or two and a passel of tackles. Perhaps he’ll prove to be the answer to the continuing problem of Washington’s secondary. Or rather, an answer. It’s unfair to expect Meriweather’s presence alone to turn around a pass defense that was ranked 30th last season.
Or — and this is the catch — at some point, maybe even Sunday, he’ll be injured again. Hopefully not in pregame warmups, but injured nonetheless. And Coach Mike Shanahan, Haslett and the rest of the brain trust will have to again consider the question: Is it time to pull the plug on Brandon Meriweather?
The arguments are circular: The secondary is lousy; isn’t it worth the risk to keep him, get him healthy and on the field? The secondary is lousy; isn’t it time to dump him and try to find someone else? And then there is his $1.2 million paycheck while the Redskins are still feeling the effects of a two-year salary cap hit.
These are the questions that plague coaches and general managers and team physicians, the less glamorous details of the job that are nonetheless important, and precarious. If the team gives up on Meriweather and he goes elsewhere, gets healthy and does well, the second-guessing will be loud and long. If the team gives up on Meriweather and he goes elsewhere but remains the same fragile, spun-glass safety, the second-guessers will wonder why he wasn’t cut loose sooner.
But the temptation is to get him healthy, get him in games and keep him there. Because how can you judge a guy on most of one game? And how can you resist the opportunity to improve your team in its weakest area? So the training staff will try to get him to Green Bay in one piece. Put him in the middle seat on the plane, with a trainer in the window seat and a doctor on the aisle. Take him directly to the team hotel in an armored tank. Room service only, with a trainer to carry in the tray and taste his food. Guard him 24-7 until game time. Then put him on the field and, as Haslett said, we’ll see.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.