In this case, maybe literally dropping the ball is better than figuratively
A year ago, 2007 first-round pick Brandon Meriweather dropped a number of potential
interceptions, near plays that left everyone from fellow safety Rodney Harrison
to Bill Belichick joking at times about his not so handy work. One of the areas
he had to work on this offseason was obvious to everyone. And he got the message.
"I have," Belichick responded recently when asked if he'd seen an
offseason improvement in Meriweather's ball skills. "Pretty much only one
way to go."
But maybe lost in the dropped balls from a year ago was the fact that the former
Miami star made huge strides over the course of his rookie season, eventually
working into the regular rotation for a secondary that came within minutes of
a Super Bowl title.
Now, in his second pro training camp, Meriweather is feeling the huge benefits
from a year in the system. After splitting his reps at corner and safety last
training camp, the sophomore has gotten plenty of reps this summer at safety
with the first defense due in part to the fact that Harrison kicked off camp
on PUP while James Sanders has missed more than a week of work for unknown reasons.
Regardless of where he's lining up, the biggest change for the athletic safety
is his overall comfort level.
"It's just like everything. Once you did something for a whole year, of
course you are going to feel a lot more comfortable," Meriweather said.
"Comfort gives you the ability to be more free, understanding of the defense
and doing the things that help the defense out just a little bit more."
It also allows Meriweather to play a more vocal, confident role in the secondary.
Harrison, Sanders and linebacker Tedy Bruschi have all commented on his improved
communication in the defensive backfield.
And while he's more confident in his game, he also admits that he's still very
much learning from the guys ahead of him on the depth chart.
"Both guys are great safeties. Both of them know the defense very, very
well," Meriweather said of action lining up at various times with Harrison
and Sanders. "So I'm just learning from both of them. It's not like I would
pick one or the other because both of them are great. I just like learning from
both of them."
Learning from them, much like he learned from the drops of his rookie season.
Meriweather claims ball skills were never an issue for him at Miami, but that
after last year, he worked hard this spring doing drills to improve his hands,
including ball drills with Harrison and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.
"It was just a different thing. It was something I needed to focus on
a little more and work on," Meriweather said. "Something that I thought
came automatic, that I didn't really have to work on, I found out I did. In
college I made those catches and had fun doing it. It's something I never had
to work on. But now I know it's something different."
The work has already paid off. Meriweather has had a couple practice interceptions
and has been around the ball on a regular basis in the first weeks of camp.
"Every one you catch you get a little more confidence in yourself. You
are starting to put stuff behind you," Meriweather admitted. "So every
one I put my hands on that I actually come up with it just that much more of
a confidence boost."
Combine that with everything else Meriweather has learned over the last year
and the young safety is doing anything but let opportunities he's getting early
in his career fall through his fingers.
--The Patriots have dealt with more than their share of injuries along the offensive
line this summer as left tackle Matt Light,
right guard Stephen Neal (PUP) and others have
missed time in camp. As such, New England has yet to work with what projects
to be its starting line and has seemingly had to deal with a different lineup
of players on almost a practice-by-practice basis.
"It would be nice if we didn't have quite as much moving as we have had
in there or if we controlled more of it but again it's always unfortunate when
someone can't practice or someone is not available," Patriots coach Bill
Belichick said. "Every time that happens, it provides an opportunity for
someone else. We just have to do what we can do and don't worry about what we
can't do. We will do what we can do. That means some guys have moved around,
some guys are gaining a little bit more position flexibility.
--Quarterback Kevin O'Connell understands the role of a rookie. So does receiver/kick
returner Matthew Slater. In fact all of New England's rookies have fallen in
line in training camp, at least in terms of a team tradition that calls for
the youngsters to carry their veteran teammates' helmets and pads from the practice
field to the locker room. Hey, there are certainly worse initiation rituals
than having to carry a couple extra sets of equipment.
"This saves me a lot of hassle elsewhere," O'Connell said with a
smile while jogging off the practice field carrying Tom Brady's stuff.
--Working through the second week of training camp, there is little doubt that
the players are starting to feel the cumulative effects of what many admit is
by far the worst part of the year.
"Oh yeah. This I call the hump days right here," running back Laurence
Maroney said. "We've been through hell and back. These are days you
just have to fight through them, find a way just to get through them and sooner
or later we are getting closer to the top of the hill and we are on our way
--Bill Belichick has shown a general distaste for any talk about the implementation
of communication devices in the helmets of defensive players this fall. New
England did not use the devices in the preseason opener, has not practiced with
the new speaker system on that side of the ball and Belichick doesn't sound
too worried about getting around to doing so.
"Well, we haven't used them yet. It is not really a high priority right
now," Belichick said. "We need to just go out there and learn how
to play good defense and learn our assignments. We will get to the other stuff
when we get to it. It's not a high priority right now."
They Said It: "No, I missed that this year." -- Bill Belichick, on
Tom Brady's birthday, when asked if he'd gotten the NFL MVP a present.