ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — During lunchtime Tuesday in the Washington Redskins locker room, a computer tablet lay on the floor, plugged into a nearby socket to get charged. It bore the team’s logo and the No. 31, the jersey that belongs to safety Brandon Meriweather.
How appropriate. It’s time to charge up Meriweather and get him out the field, time to see if he is truly the missing piece in the Redskins secondary.
“I’m just happy,” Meriweather said as he walked off the practice field, “to still be relevant.”
Robert Griffin III doesn’t have a monopoly on major knee surgery rehab. Meriweather is returning from a torn right ACL, an injury that cut short a frustrating 2012 in which he played a little more than half of one game — and still made quite an impact.
To recap: Meriweather’s only action came in the Week 11 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. In just 41 plays on defense, he had one interception, broke up two passes and made seven tackles before his knee buckled while pursuing a running play early in the third quarter.
“The guy was all over the field making plays,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said.
The Redskins went on to win the NFC East, but they ranked 30th against the pass for the season. They surely need a better effort this year from the back end of the defense if they’re to repeat as champs, and much of that hope hinges on Meriweather. If his knee isn’t ready, the starting tandem on opening day will likely be promising-but-raw sixth-round draft pick Bacarri Rambo and veteran backup Reed Doughty, who has gamely filled in many times over the years but is more valuable on special teams.
Orakpo said when Meriweather’s presence creates a chain reaction throughout the defense, allowing those up front to play more aggressively.
“It makes me a lot more confident in what I’m doing,” Orakpo said. “Because I know he’s going to be back there to make plays.”
Meriweather was a two-time Pro Bowl safety with the New England Patriots, but he’s been jinxed from the moment he joined the Redskins last year. He sprained two ligaments in his left knee in a preseason game, reinjured the knee during practice just before the regular season opener, then reinjured it again when he collided with teammate Aldrick Robinson during pregame warm-ups in Week 4.
When the left knee finally healed enough for him to play, he wowed the Redskins for half-a-game — then hurt the right knee.
The right knee was still sore throughout much of this year’s training camp, causing Meriweather to sit out practices. He was kept out of the first three preseason games. Coaches figure he’s finally be ready to play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when nearly all of the other projected Week 1 starters will be getting the night off.
“He’s going to be a little rusty, obviously,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “He hasn’t played in a while, but I thought he’s had good practices here the last week and a half. It looks like he’s running full-speed and everything looks smooth. We’ll see when the tackling comes and the hard stuff.”
Coincidentally, it was in Tampa where Meriweather collided with Robinson in the end zone last year.
“Actually, I’m not allowed to go out in Tampa and warm up,” said Meriweather, with a laugh.
Meriweather deals from comparisons with Griffin, who had ACL surgery later than Meriweather but has made a remarkably quick recovery. Griffin didn’t miss a single practice during training camp — unusual for a player coming off an ACL injury — and appears on pace to start in the Week 1 opener.
The Redskins hope they can soon say the same about Meriweather.
“He wanted to play for the last three weeks, but we felt he wasn’t ready just watching him,” Haslett said. “He was still dragging his leg a couple of weeks ago, and he’s worked his way out of that.”
Note: The Redskins made their final roster moves to get the roster to 75. They cut T Jeremy Trueblood, waived LB Roddrick Muckelroy and CB Ryan Mouton with injured designations, and waived OL Jacolby Ashworth with an injury settlement. Also, DE Adam Carriker was moved from the active physically unable to perform list to the reserve PUP list.
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