- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

RICHMOND — As Danny Amendola lay on his back in the far corner of the end zone, Brandon Meriweather stood over him, staring down at his opponent for a bit longer than necessary.

Meriweather, the Washington Redskins’ starting strong safety, had broken up a pass intended for Amendola, the New England Patriots wide receiver, during 11-on-11 drills in the teams’ joint practice on Tuesday.

And Meriweather, as he is wont to do, gave Amendola a warning.

“That’s why you don’t come outside,” Meriweather said, hovering for another few moments before tapping the wide receiver on the helmet and walking away.

Trash talk is a part of football, but Meriweather takes it to another degree. Between his verbal jabs and his physical style, there are few players in the league as irritating as Meriweather.

“He’s going to run his mouth,” said Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. “That’s what he do. Some people run their mouth. Some people just play. He do both. You just have to know what you’re dealing with when you’re dealing with Brandon.”

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The Redskins have learned that over the past two years, tolerating his reckless style of play often at times because they’ve had no better option.

After missing all but part of one game because of a variety of knee injuries in 2012, his first season in Washington, Meriweather missed two last season, and then a third because of a league suspension for repeated hits to the head and neck area of his opponents.

Knowing full well that another reckless hit could have Meriweather sidelined for multiple games this season, the Redskins brought him back on a one-year contract for $855,000 — the minimum for a player with seven years’ experience.

Unlike last year, his responsibilities will change. Meriweather began the 2013 season as the Redskins’ starting strong safety, but a poor performance by rookie Bacarri Rambo over the first three games forced the team to move Meriweather, a former collegiate cornerback, to free safety.

It was not the greatest fit. The defense expected Meriweather to be a playmaker in the box, especially in blitz packages, and rack up tackles. Instead, it was left with him standing yards downfield as the team’s last line of defense.

“We’ve got to get that guy in the box, because he’s an active, physical guy that when he’s in the box, he makes his presence known,” said defensive backs coach Raheem Morris.

The role change seems, at least in training camp, to have reinvigorated Meriweather, said new starting free safety Ryan Clark. Following a season in Chicago that Meriweather enjoyed so little he still refuses to speak about it, and after tearing ligaments in his right knee in 2012, he thought last year could be his comeback.

He finished with 69 tackles, slightly below his average over three years as a starter with the Patriots, and intercepted two passes — the fewest he’s had as a full-time player.

“When you’re a guy of his caliber of talent, you don’t like to have down years,” Clark said. “You don’t like to feel like you haven’t performed at your highest level. I feel like he’s really focused on having a bounce-back year, and it’s really exciting to watch.”

To get him in better position this season, Clark, a 12-year veteran, has worked with Meriweather to improve his nutrition and his eating habits. He’s also gotten Meriweather to watch additional film, hoping he’ll have a better grasp on his opponents.

The changes on defense should help him, too. Playing more in the box, Meriweather will be involved a little bit earlier on every play, which Clark said should also keep him focused and better tuned in.

“It wasn’t uncomfortable,” Meriweather said, referring to playing free safety. “It was just hard for me to get into the game plan because I’m always deep. I’m never blitzing. I wasn’t ever doing anything.

“I was always deep middle. So this year it’ll be a lot more fun because now I get to do a little bit of both. You can’t pinpoint and tell us where I’m gonna be at every play, so it’s gonna be fun.”

The challenge, of course, will be for Meriweather to stay on the field. Though he’s professed numerous times a desire to change his tackling habits — he’s racked up more than $127,000 in fines from the league over the years — doing so will be another issue.

In the two padded practices the Redskins have had with the Patriots in the past two days, even New England coach Bill Belichick recognized Meriweather’s style of play, calling him “a tough kid, a hard-hitting kid.”

That has led to perhaps Clark’s greatest advice for Meriweather when it comes to his approach to defense this season.

“Keep your money,” Clark said.

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