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Final preseason game isn’t a night of rest for Redskins’ Brandon Meriweather

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The final NFL preseason game is often a time for established players to rest. Why risk injury with the real thing just days away?

But one Washington Redskins veteran who will be on the field Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is veteran safety Brandon Meriweather, who sustained a torn ACL in his right knee Nov. 18.

It was the final blow in a brutal season, which began with such high hopes after Meriweather signed a two-year, $6 million contract and was expected to solidify Washington's secondary. Instead, he hurt his left knee (sprained MCL and PCL) during the second preseason game and suffered two more setbacks before the regular season began. One of those came during a practice, the other in a pre-game collision with a teammate just hours before his scheduled return in Week 4 against the Buccaneers.

"It's been a long year," Meriweather said Tuesday.

It was Week 11 before Meriweather was deemed healthy enough to play in a game. He lasted all of one half against the Philadelphia Eagles, leaving the field early in the third quarter with that torn ACL after a noncontact play. So will this be an emotional return on Thursday night? Not quite.

"Not too many people get to play good off their emotions," Meriweather said. "When you start putting your emotions in it, that's when you kind of [slip]. Everybody loves the game and they play to have fun, but when you start getting too emotional, you try to do too much."

Meriweather was on the field for exactly 45 plays last season. What kind of difference can he make to Washington's secondary as the starter at strong safety? Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett ticked them off one by one: Seven tackles, an interception, a forced fumble. All of that came in his one half of action in 2012.

"[Meriweather is] going to be a little rusty, obviously. He hasn't played in a while," Haslett said. "I thought he's had good practices here the last week-and a half. He looks like he's running full speed and everything looks smooth, so we'll see when the tackling comes and all the other stuff — the hard stuff."

It's tough to imagine Meriweather making that kind of impact right off the bat. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is just hoping to get an injury-free half out of him against Tampa Bay. He was encouraged, however, by Meriweather's effort in Monday's intense 110-minute practice.

Avoiding a setback now is the key. For his part, Meriweather likes that he made it through three consecutive weeks of practice without one. He didn't have to miss a day to rest his knee.

But that came about in part because the coaching staff was so cautious with Meriweather this summer and during the early portion of training camp. He believes he was moving well enough to participate during OTAs in late May and early June even as everyone around him preached patience. There was no need to push it then. There is now. The Eagles await in just 12 days.

"I'm super anxious. Just happy to actually get a chance and do something I love," Meriweather said. "I don't have [any expectations]. I'm just gonna make sure everything's oiled up and ready to go."

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