Reporting David Elfin
When I was growing up, my paternal grandmother and my maternal aunts all had living rooms that no one lived in except for when company visited. With their figurines and their untouched candy dishes, the rooms were more like shrines to the decorative taste of the owners than comfortable places to read, listen to music or talk. Those activities happened in the kitchen, the den or even the basement.
Maybe that’s how the Redskins need to handle Brandon Meriweather, the safety who should have a “Fragile” sticker stamped on his forehead. Meriweather is undoubtedly a playmaker, but he should only be used in case of an emergency because once he’s unveiled, he’s sure to get hurt.
During his two seasons with Washington, Meriweather has played in parts of three preseason games and two regular season games and has had to leave all but the first contest with some kind of a physical malady. That track record if amazing when Meriweather is compared to inside linebacker London Fletcher, another physical player who on Sunday will tie the NFL record for a defensive player by suiting up in a 243rd consecutive game and is nearly nine years older.
Meriweather, a Pro Bowl pick in 2009 and 2010, his third and fourth seasons with New England, first injured his left knee in the second preseason game of 2012 while trying to make a tackle in his return to Chicago where he had played in 2011. He missed the final two preseason games. After he reinjured the knee during practice on the Monday before the season-opener, he was out for the next four games.
Meriweather was due to return in Week 5 at Tampa Bay, but he collided with receiver Aldrick Robinson during pregame warm-ups. He reinjured the knee during the bizarre situation and was sidelined again until Week 11. Meriweather played with a vengeance that afternoon against Philadelphia, flying around the field to make seven tackles, intercept a pass and deflect two others, but he tore the ACL in his right knee during the third quarter and was done for the season.
“It’s a physical game and you don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ve never seen it happen that frequently with the same guy,” said eighth-year safety Reed Doughty.
Given Meriweather’s history, the Redskins were conservative with him this spring and summer, holding him out of practices during organized team activities and minicamp and having him practice sporadically during training camp. He didn’t face an opponent until the final preseason game at Tampa Bay.
Despite those precautions, Meriweather managed to hurt himself again in the week before the opener, straining a groin muscle. He was inactive against the Eagles but returned last Sunday at Green Bay.
Meriweather, who has a history of fines for illegal hits, led with his helmet on the vicious tackle that gave Packers running back Eddie Lacy a concussion during the first quarter. On Wednesday, Meriweather was fined $42,000 by the NFL for the hit, taking him over the $100,000 career mark for such transgressions.
As if in some sort of cosmic payback, Meriweather was on the receiving end of a blow from the helmet of Lacy’s replacement, James Starks less than a minute into the second quarter. It took Meriweather a while to have the strength and presence of mind to recover enough to rise to his feet and be helped to the locker room by some of Washington’s medical personnel.
“When he was laying there, that was not good to see,” said Pro Bowl outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who has been the only productive member of Washington’s defense that has been strafed in each game so far. “Hopefully he can come back because he’s a difference-maker.”
Meriweather is currently going through the NFL’s mandatory concussion protocol. He worked in a limited fashion during yesterday’s practice and could play Sunday against Detroit but has yet to be medically cleared to do so.
While Meriweather has always been a big, if undisciplined, hitter, he didn’t miss a game during his four seasons with the Patriots. His five absences in Chicago were because Bears coach Lovie Smith didn’t want him to play, not because he wasn’t healthy. It’s only since he signed with Washington in March 2012 that he has become like one of the title objects from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, shiny but too delicate to handle often.
The Redskins’ beleaguered defense, especially its ever-leaky secondary, could certainly use a two-time Pro Bowl strong safety. In the absence of Meriweather and free safety Tanard Jackson, who has been suspended for substance abuse for more than a year, the starters are rookie Bacarri Rambo, who has yet to get the hang of the NFL, and Doughty, a fine tackler whose coverage skills aren’t as keen.
However, defensive-minded coaches Bill Belichick of the Patriots and Smith both bid good riddance to Meriweather because they didn’t like his style of play. Add those strikes to a 30th birthday which is less than four months away and his incredible inability to stay healthy over the last two seasons and Meriweather has become as unreliable as a weather forecast. And the last thing the reeling Redskins need right now is more stormy weather.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.