RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC) — If the uniform fazed Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather, he would not let on.
A first-round draft pick and two-time Pro Bowler while with the New England Patriots, Meriweather was cut by the club in 2011. Monday, he saw old friends when New England arrived in Richmond for three days of joint practices with Washington.
“This is work, man. I’m a professional,” Meriweather said. “But it’s just another team. I’m a Washington Redskin now and that’s all that matters.”
That didn’t stop him from jawing with former teammate Tom Brady as the Patriots quarterback efficiently moved his team downfield during 11-on-11 work. That’s just Meriweather’s personality.
“Yes! Every day, man,” Meriweather said. “I talk junk to my own teammates, you don’t think I’m gonna talk junk to everybody else?”
Another former teammate, Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, just chuckled when told Meriweather’s comments.
“Some people run their mouth, some people just play,” Wilfork said. “He do both. You just have to know what you’re dealing with when you’re dealing with Brandon.”
But at 30 now, this is a serious season for Meriweather. He is on a one-year contract. Last year he spent the majority of his time at free safety, a position he’d played before, but didn’t always seem comfortable in. This year, with veteran Ryan Clark added at that spot, Meriweather can stay exclusively a strong safety. That means more time helping stop the run, more chances to blitz and cause havoc.
“I never was in the box last year. At all. I was always deep middle,” Meriweather said. “This year it’ll be a lot more fun because now I get to do a little bit of both. You can’t pinpoint and tell us where I’m gonna be at every play so it’s gonna be fun….It wasn’t uncomfortable. It was just hard for me to get into the game plan because I’m always deep. I’m never blitzing. I wasn’t never doing anything.”
He’s exaggerating some there. Meriweather saw time at both safety spots, though not as much as he wanted. But to play that new role full time he has to keep himself on the field. There was much talk last week about the NFL’s crackdown on illegal contact by defensive back. But the league has already tried to punish repeat offenders for illegal hits to the head.
Meriweather earned a one-game suspension last season for a pair of Oct. 20 hits on Chicago wide receivers. He’d been fined earlier in the season $42,000 for an illegal hit that knocked Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy from a game on Sept. 15.
“Brandon, he plays a very physical style of football. That’s all he knows. But there is a rule now, obviously, and he’s had to pay the price for it,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “And he understands the next one is going to be a longer suspension.”
Gruden told Meriweather early in camp that he’d get a two-practice suspension if he doesn’t find a way to lower his target when hitting opponents.
“[Meriweather is] tough, he’s physical, he wants to do the right thing, but sometimes at that position the ball is in the air, he’s trying to knock the ball out and sometimes they unfortunately make contact head-to-head and it’s not intentional,” Gruden said. “I don’t think he has the intent to injure people. I think he has the intent to get the player down and get the ball out. Sometimes those instances look worse than they are, but he does have to really watch his area of target and hopefully we will keep him on the field for 16 weeks because he is much needed in the secondary.”
Meriweather credited new teammate Ryan Clark, a veteran safety, for showing him new ways to approach the game. Everything from diet to how he watches film to how he carries himself in meetings. But one thing Clark did not address was Meriweather’s style of play.
“I tell Brandon to keep playing, we’re going to try and save him some money,” Clark said. “I’m going to try to talk him out of as many fines as I can this year, but I don’t want him to change his game. I want him to lower his strike zone the best he can because that’s the rule. But other than that, man, just keep playing football.”
It remains to be seen if Meriweather can do that. His track record in that area isn’t good and the NFL is vigilant about fining and suspending repeat offenders. But he can still play. And with Clark along side him and promising, healthy Phillip Thomas ready to step into a reserve role, the Redskins feel far more comfortable at safety than they did at any point last season. Meriweather, back at a more natural spot on the field, is a big part of that.
“I feel great. But, for me, it’s me getting better every day,” Meriweather said. “I’m not trying to worry about the one-year deal. I’m not worried about the deal. I’m not worried about anything. I’m just worried about me getting better every day.”