With Harrison Gone, Time for Meriweather to Shine

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This might be the season when Brandon Meriweather puts himself on the map.

The void left by the retirement of Rodney Harrison has given Meriweather a chance to seize the spotlight as the New England Patriots' full-time strong safety. Meriweather's role has expanded through each of his first two years with the team, but he'll be asked to assume more responsibilities in 2009.

For that reason, Meriweather has been more excited than usual to be back at Gillette Stadium for training camp.

"It feels good," said Meriweather, who missed all of the Patriots' spring workouts due to an undisclosed injury. "I feel real good to be back, playing with the people you care about. It's fun."

After being selected with the 24th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Meriweather played in every game of his rookie season in a backup role. He earned 11 starts last season, when he really began to show why he was worthy of a first-round pick. Meriweather was third on the team with 79 total tackles and second with 57 unassisted tackles, according to coaches' film review. He had a team-best four interceptions and tied for the most forced fumbles with two. Meriweather was second on the Pats with nine pass defenses, and he also showed an ability to wreak havoc in the backfield, recording a pair of sacks.

With Harrison now out of the picture, it's only natural there will be more attention paid to Meriweather, and the University of Miami product is electrifying enough to take off and run with it. He is an exciting on-field presence with an ability to make show-stopping hits, which is a recipe for stardom.

Meriweather's improvement isn't just limited to the field. The Patriots need to replace Harrison's leadership, and Meriweather is making a conscious effort to grow in that department as well.

"I think Brandon is certainly one of the better leaders on our team, certainly a leader in the secondary," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "Brandon has a lot of confidence. He's played a lot of football in his career at Miami. Basically, he started in our sub defense as a rookie and then last year, so he's very comfortable and confident in our system."

For now, Meriweather defers to safety James Sanders as the most prominent leader of the secondary, but that doesn't mean Meriweather isn't doing everything he can to learn everyone's leadership tendencies. As with Harrison in the past, Meriweather is looking to Sanders — among others — to see how he reacts to certain situations in meetings, in the locker room and on the field.

It also helps that Meriweather has the credibility from performing at a high level during games, a level you should expect to see raised in 2009.

"That's something I would like to improve on every year," Meriweather said. "It's not just today. It's not just this year. I want to improve on my vocal skills and being a leader."

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