When the Washington Redskins visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the preseason finale Thursday night, they hope to gain answers to one of the few unresolved matters surrounding their first-team defense.
Largely regarded as a meaningless game for established veterans, Thursday’s contest will be played without at least 22 of the team’s top veterans – starters and a few key backups.
But for Brandon Meriweather, the team’s projected starting strong safety, the game will represent his first game action since Nov. 18 of last year and a chance to show coaches that his presence in the secondary can help solve the Redskins’ biggest area of weakness last season.
“Super anxious,” said Meriweather, the only starter other than quarterback Robert Griffin IIIwho has yet to play in the preseason. “I’m just happy I get a chance to do something I love. I don’t have [any expectations]. I’ll go out there and make sure that everything’s oiled up and ready to go. . . . I’m happy to be able to play one more game for this coaching staff and give my all out there with the guys I love.”
Forced out of the first nine games of last season by knee injuries, Meriweather made his debut against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11. But early in the second half, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and missed the remainder of the season.
Meriweather spent the preseason working his way back after recovering from surgery. Meriweather was eased into action during training camp, but has only practiced fully the past three weeks.
The Redskins hope Meriweather can recapture the two-time Pro Bowl form that he sported in New England in 2009 and 2010 before he fell out of favor there, spent a disappointing 2011 season in Chicago and was released.
The team got only a small sampling of Meriweather’s capabilities last season, because he suffered his initial knee injury — a sprained MCL and PCL — in the second preseason game. He was set to return in Week 4 of the regular season at Tampa Bay, but re-injured the same knee during a pregame collision with wide receiver Aldrick Robinson.
When Meriweather finally got on the field, he looked like the playmaker the Redskins envisioned. But that production didn’t last long. Now, the Redskins are eager to find out if the seventh-year veteran can reclaim his form.
“Based on the 45 plays he played last year, he had [seven] tackles, an interception,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said when asked about Meriweather’s potential. “I’d say that I’m excited about him just getting back on the field and hopefully he can stay healthy and help our team.”
Haslett values Meriweather’s playmaking ability, and the flexibility that he gives him because of his coverage skills, which he developed as a cornerback in college. But initially, Haslett doesn’t expect to overly tax Meriweather with a diverse list of responsibilities because this will represent his first game action since last season.
“He’s going to be a little rusty, obviously. He hasn’t played in a while,” Haslett said. “But he’s had good practices the last week and a half. He looks like he’s running full speed, and we’ll see how the tackling comes and all the hard stuff.”
Meriweather has lobbied to play in each of the three preseason games so far, Haslett said. But the Redskins have elected to give him more time to heal. In his place, rookie Phillip Thomas (now lost for the season with a foot injury), third-year pro DeJon Gomes and eighth-year veteran Reed Doughty have started.
Meriweather said he has drawn encouragement from the last three weeks of practice and aims to bring a high-energy style of play Thursday night. Meriweather is optimistic that despite the lack of game action, he’s prepared.
“I think I’ve been participating a lot. I’ve practiced the last three weeks and haven’t missed a day the last three weeks, and I’ve been doing everything my coaches have asked me,” he said before later adding, “I don’t think I have anything to prove. You just go out there, do your job, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Fourth-string quarterback Pat White will start the Redskins’ preseason finale Thursday night in Tampa, Coach Mike Shanahan said Tuesday.
White will play the entire game unless he gets hurt, Shanahan said, adding that third-string quarterback Rex Grossman would play in that instance.
“Pat White will play the entire game unless he goes down,” Shanahan said. “If he goes down, Rex will go in. If he goes down, I’m going in. There’s nobody left.” . . .
The Redskins released linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, cornerback Ryan Mouton and guard Jacolby Ashworth to complete their round of cuts to get the roster down to the league-mandated 75 players by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. The team also confirmed the release of right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who was informed of the decision on Monday.
Mark Maske contributed.
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