WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather was not at FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon.
He did not celebrate the defense’s 10 sacks or make a play to help its cause. He did not console quarterback Robert Griffin III after a serious ankle injury. Instead, Meriweather watched Washington’s 41-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars from a local bar, a hoodie pulled tight over his head.
For two weeks, starting on Sept. 1, Meriweather wasn’t allowed to be at the team’s Ashburn, Virginia headquarters. The NFL had suspended him two games for an illegal hit in a preseason game against Baltimore. Chastened, Meriweather spent his free time as if it was the offseason – flying home to visit his family and see his daughter, working out and trying to stay mentally sharp by watching film.
On Monday, with the suspension lifted, he returned to the facility and is set to start at strong safety in Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s a far cry from Instagraming dancing fans celebrating a Redskins touchdown during the Jacksonville game. Eventually, fans recognized Meriweather. By then he was happy to take part in the revelry. His team had won and he was back in business.
“It’s like a family reunion,” Meriweather said as several teammates came over to shake hands, share a joke or just chat by his locker on Monday morning at Redskins Park.
Meriweather should make a difference on the field, where second-year pro Bacarri Rambo started in his place, but made two high-profile mistakes in the first two games.
“It means more arguments,” veteran safety Ryan Clark joked. “So now I got to deal with him, man. It’s like having a little brother who thinks he can beat you up.”
Clark is willing to put up with a few squabbles if it means an experienced player by his side. Meriweather is versatile, better in the box at stopping the run, but capable in coverage. That gives defensive coordinator Jim Haslett more options if he wants to drop the strong safety deep and bring Clark up from free safety. Both men are physical players. At the very least Meriweather is unlikely to repeat Rambo’s mistakes, which both led to long opponents’ touchdowns.
Now the question: How long can Meriweather stay on the field? The NFL has disciplined him six different times during his career, including a two-game suspension for an illegal hit last season that was knocked down to one game upon appeal.
Meriweather earned no such mercy this time after a hit on Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith. The league has its sights set on him. Any borderline hits on a defenseless receiver, any tackles where he leads with the crown of the helmet or makes helmet-to-helmet contact, will be dealt with harshly. Meriweather grew up playing the game one way. That style is being legislated out of being one suspension at a time. He can’t argue anymore even if multiple teammates were incensed at the two-game suspension.
“I have no choice but to constantly tell myself to do it,” Meriweather said. “It’s not nothing I’m willing to chance. I’m not willing to get kicked out of the league just to hit somebody hard. It’s just something I’m going to have to do.”
Late last season and during training camp, it did appear that Meriweather had tried to change. There were fewer borderline tackles even if his style of play remained aggressive and physical. He can only change so much, after all. But he also know you can’t really fight the league, preferring not to discuss the details of his appeal hearing where in the past he might have sounded off to reporters.
“To be honest man. I’m gonna leave that where it’s at. I’m gonna let the past be in the past,” Meriweather said. “As you all can see now, I done grown up a little bit. I’m not slamming the NFL, the commissioner or anybody. I’m growing up man. I’m taking responsibility and it is my fault and it is what it is. The past is gonna be put behind me.”
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