Last season was supposed to be a big one for Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, but he fell off from his 2009 campaign despite earning a spot on his second consecutive Pro Bowl roster. This offseason has been a strange one for Meriweather, too.
Taking that into consideration, what's in store for the safety in 2011?
Meriweather's playing time decreased at the start of the 2010 season, and he admitted he wasn't practicing well because he was trying new things. The hard-hitting safety was also fined for a helmet-to-helmet shot on Ravens tight end Todd Heap, and all of the factors seemed to weigh on Meriweather's mind as the season wore on. Then, when he was elected to the Pro Bowl, many questioned the legitimacy of the selection.
There's no doubt that Meriweather's play took a dive from something of a breakout season in 2009, and it could definitely be debated that he was voted to the Pro Bowl over other AFC safeties with more deserving seasons. But the most disappointing thing is he didn't use the 2010 season as a real launching pad to becoming one of the league's elite at the position.
He's also been caught up in an unfortunate string of events in Florida, where he was labeled as a shooter at a crime scene. However, Meriweather's lawyer strongly denied the allegations, and details that have surfaced about the case back up that claim. It looks like a situation where Meriweather was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his name was irresponsibly thrown around at the beginning of the news cycle.
Meriweather has a tremendous amount of talent, and I even wrote last summer that he was on the verge of doing some big things in the NFL. He's got great athleticism and good ball skills, and he's not afraid to make a big play that involves contact over the middle. The 27-year-old can struggle with his instincts, and he still falls out of position during plays, which are two characteristics that must improve before he makes that leap.
Meriweather should also benefit from a coaching change on the New England roster. Corwin Brown was fired and replaced by Matt Patricia, perhaps the Patriots' most respected position coach who will be responsible for the safeties in 2011. It's possible that the daily tutelage from Patricia could really boost Meriweather's performance this season.
This is also the last season of Meriweather's rookie contract, and he'll need a big year to earn a fat paycheck. Because of the Pro Bowls, the University of Miami product will get paid regardless of what happens next season, but he's still in line to boost his stock. After all, the highlight reels love Meriweather, and he loves them right back.
I turned out to be wrong about Meriweather last offseason, but he's still got enough talent to believe he's got a bright future ahead. After a strange calendar year, he's got every incentive to turn it around immediately when he steps onto the field for training camp in the coming weeks.
Jeff Howe will answer one Patriots-related question every day through Aug. 1.
Saturday, July 23: What will the offensive line look like?
Monday, July 25: Are the Patriots still the class of the AFC East?