Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather has made noticeable strides over the course of his first three seasons in the league. Even though he is coming off his first Pro Bowl, he's got plenty of room for improvement, and that’s a good thing for the Patriots. So, can Meriweather continue to make the leap toward stardom in 2010?
The 24th pick of the 2007 draft comes from a strong lineage of talented Miami safeties, including Baltimore's Ed Reed and the late Sean Taylor. Meriweather remains very close with Reed — who is one of Bill Belichick's favorite players in the league — with the two spending plenty of time in Florida watching film together in the offseason. It's hard to imagine a better role model for Meriweather in the league today.
Meriweather ranked third on the Patriots in 2009 with 83 total tackles, and he was tied for second with 49 solo stops. He was tied with cornerback Leigh Bodden for a team-high five interceptions — taking one back for a touchdown in Week 7 against Tampa Bay — and also registered two sacks, nine passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
Since his rookie year in '07, Meriweather has amassed 178 total tackles (119 solo), four sacks, nine interceptions, 21 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and 34 special teams tackles in 48 regular-season games (27 starts). Because he was behind Rodney Harrison and James Sanders on the depth chart in 2007, almost all of that production has come during the last two seasons.
Meriweather has proven to be a playmaker, and he's at his best when he plays closer to the line of scrimmage, which actually differentiates his game from Reed's. The New England safety is stout against the run, and he's shown glimpses of a knack to get to the quarterback in blitz situations.
But he's also shown some weaknesses. Meriweather doesn’t always wrap up the ball carrier, sometimes targeting a bigger hit instead of making the simple tackle. And he has to get better in coverage. At least twice last season — once against the Saints and once against the Panthers — Meriweather missed an assignment that led to a long touchdown pass.
The third-year safety can improve each issue. For one, he's strong enough to be a good tackler, so it's just about being smart and making the right play. The consistent stream of film study will help Meriweather's read and recognition, and those things will come with time.
It's been said often, but the safety position is tough for a young player to learn. Belichick wants his safeties to captain the secondary by making the right pre-snap calls to line up the defense. It's as much of a mental game as a physical game for Meriweather, and those things demand experience.
Meriweather has also been helped by Corwin Brown's addition to the coaching staff. Brown played safety for Belichick for three seasons in the 1990s, and he is the first former safety to coach Meriweather in New England. Similarly, the Patriots' defensive linemen say how much they enjoy playing for assistant coach Pepper Johnson, and Belichick has said he understands how much it helps players who can relate to their assistant coaches.
There are a number of factors that should help Meriweather continue to improve in 2010, and the Patriots have yet to see the budding star's maximum potential. That still might take a couple of more years, but expect Meriweather to continue making significant strides next season.
NESN.com will answer one Patriots question every day until July 24
Wednesday, July 21: Which combination of inside linebackers will best suit New England's 3-4 base defense in 2010?
Friday, July 23: Who are the Patriots' leaders and what can they add?
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