“Why would I do that?” he says. “I ain’t played in a year.”
But everyone sets goals, right?
Meriweather concedes. “One. To stay healthy, be there every game.”
The rest, Meriweather says, will take care of itself.
This year represents Meriweather’s third attempt to revitalize a career that got off to a promising start with back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances in his third and fourth seasons in New England. Then he fell out of favor there, struggled in one season in Chicago’s cover-two defense and signed with Washington in 2012. Jim Haslett’s defense, which calls for an aggressive, roaming, versatile strong safety, seemed like the perfect fit for Meriweather.
But last season proved more of a tease than anything.
Knee injuries kept Meriweather from getting on the field until Week 11. And that debut didn’t last long. Early in the third quarter — after racking up seven tackles, two pass breakups and an interception in the first half — Meriweather tore his right anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the season.
Eight months have passed, and Meriweather has returned to the field, although not in full capacity. The seventh-year veteran missed all of Washington’s offseason practices while rehabilitating, so the past four practices of camp represent his first action since November. But it remains to be seen if he can recapture the electrifying form he displayed.
Meriweather hasn’t missed a training camp practice, but after taking virtually every first-team repetition on the first two days, he had his activity scaled back on Saturday.
Meriweather denied limping or favoring the knee when interviewed following the practice. But Coach Mike Shanahan said: “I do see him being a little bit, or at least, on the edge, where I don’t want him to push himself too hard. We’ve got to get him back in football shape.”
Monday marked a second straight practice of limited action for Meriweather. He took part in positional drills, but worked on a side field with trainers while his teammates did one-on-one, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills.
It remains unclear if Meriweather will play in any of the preseason games. (Sprained medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments suffered in the second preseason game of last season started his troubles.) But the Redskins — as is their intention with Robert Griffin III — want to ensure Meriweather’s recovery is complete.
The hope is that he can recapture his Pro Bowl form and provide needed stability in Washington’s defensive backfield. Known for delivering big hits, and possessing the versatility and athleticism to both play within a few yards of the line of scrimmage as a run-stopper or match up with wide receivers in man-to-man coverage, Meriweather would presumably help a pass defense that ranked among the worst in the league in 2012.
“He’s a headhunter and a guy that can make a lot of plays,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “He’s moving around back there like he was when he got here, and I’m excited to have him back. All the guys we are getting back from injury play a big part of this team, and Meriweather is one of them.”
Said cornerback Josh Wilson: “As you could see in the Philadelphia game, he’s a difference-maker. He makes corners like myself feel more comfortable knowing he’s back there.”
But Meriweather talks little of his capabilities. If eager to make up for lost time, he doesn’t let on. If confident that he can be a solution in the team’s leaky secondary, he doesn’t share those sentiments, either.
“You’ve just got to wait and see,” he says. “I’m just working to be out here for my team. It feels good to know the coaches and them have faith in me.”
Meriweather said he doesn’t allow himself to worry about another potential setback. He doesn’t find himself wrestling with the dilemma of knowing how to pace himself as he works his way back.
“If it was up to me, I’d be out there every play,” he said. “But thank God I have good coaches, thank God I have good trainers, because they’re handling all that.”
The Redskins have made plans in case Meriweather’s knee doesn’t hold up, however. This spring, the team drafted Phillip Thomas andBacarri Rambo
. With Meriweather rehabbing during the spring, Thomas saw significant time as first-team strong safety while Rambo has started at free safety both during offseason practices and in training camp. Veteran Reed Doughty also has seen time with the starters at strong safety.
Meriweather doesn’t feel the pressure of the competition. Instead, he has taken it upon himself to help Thomas and Rambo in their acclimation to the NFL, giving them guidance in meetings and on the field.
“He gets on me, stays on my case, but I know he means well,” Thomas said. “It’s a progression thing and I know he’s going to bring me up, because we’re only as good as our weakest person.”
Says Meriweather: “That’s life. There’s somebody gunning for your job, too. It’s not just mine. . . . But at the end of the day, the best player’s going to win, and the people that are here are still going to be able to help the team. If you don’t play Week 1, you might play Week 3. You’ve always got to have somebody there that’s just as good. The way I grew up, your secondary is only as good as your backups. So if you have good backups, you’ll have a good secondary.”
Meriweather just hopes he can do his part to contribute to that secondary. If on the field, he believes the success will come.