Do the Patriots Have Problems at Safety?

Is Sergio Brown working his way into the starting lineup?

Before the training camp started, when you looked at the Patriots’ roster, the safety position didn’t jump out at you as an area of concern. It contained Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather (even if you weren’t convinced that he deserved it), up-and-comer Patrick Chung, veteran stalwart James Sanders who had one of the best seasons of his career, and a budding Sergio Brown who was at the least a solid special teams player. It looked like a very solid group.

However, that perception seems to have changed.

A couple of weeks ago, the Pats brought in then-free agent Dashon Goldson amongst rumors that they were unhappy with Meriweather’s play. Later on it was revealed that they offered Goldson a contract, but he chose to re-sign with the 49ers. Then, in a game where most starters did not play, Meriweather and Chung suited up at safety and played the entire first half. Part of that certainly is the fact that James Sanders has only practiced once due to injury and depth is a little thin, but the coaching staff could have also been trying to get an extended look at how the two worked together on the field.

The next show to drop was news that broke yesterday indicating the Patriots were bringing in two safeties for visits: Darren Sharper and Reynaldo Hill. Again, Meriweather seems to be the man teetering on the precipice of losing his starting job. Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio was asked about the depth at safety today:

We have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football for us. Patrick [Chung] has played a lot of football for us, Brandon [Meriweather] has been a productive player, Sergio [Brown] has had more opportunities to get on the field here, at least in a practice setting defensively, after last year starting on the practice squad [and] playing a role in the kicking game. Those guys are here, they’re working hard, they’re improving and they’re getting better. They’ll have plenty of opportunity when they’re on the field but that’s a pretty solid group. James Sanders hasn’t been out there as much but he’s played a lot of football for us. Collectively that’s a group – it’s not perfect, but I think they’re all moving in the right direction.

Sounds like a positive view on the safety position. Caserio was then asked specifically about Brandon Meriweather:

He’s a player that had a lot of versatility coming out of Miami. He played some corner, played some safety, actually played a little bit of star. We’ve tried him in a number of different roles. Brandon has been a productive player since he’s been here. He’s had production, he’s got a lot of experience in our system, he’s a talented player. Is it perfect? No. Is he working hard to get better? That’s the most important thing. I think the biggest thing is each year is kind of its own entity, so the most important thing is you’re just looking for improvement over the course of time and I think Brandon has improved since he’s been here and continues to improve and I think all players, regardless of their status, regardless of how much experience they have, there’s always an opportunity to improve, and I think that’s the most important thing for them to do.

But what about the free agent visits of Sharper and Hill? Caserio was asked to compare the free agents to what the Patriots currently have at safety, and he responded as follows:

Really, I think you’re talking about apples and oranges. Our workout procedure and process – as a matter of fact, I actually went back and checked our notes from last year [and] we’ve worked out the same amount of players at this time in training camp this year than we have in years past – we’re just doing our due diligence; we’re doing our homework; we’re trying to stay prepared; we’re trying to gather as much information as we can on the players and if there’s an opportunity that makes sense for us we’ll pursue it. I’d say it’s standard operating procedure. The guys that are here are working and they’re improving – they’re trying to get better on a day-to-day basis. We’re just trying to evaluate the market to the best of the ability and the as much information at our disposable as possible.

At the surface, it sounds like the Patriots are just keeping up on their, “just in case” list. However, another shake-up came today at practice. The safeties that played with the starting included Patrick Chung (no surprise there) and Sergio Brown…no Meriweather. Meriweather saw most of his time with the second unit, though did rotate in with the first unit on some occasions. He refused interviews at the end of practice, so things may not look good for the singer of, “The Big Bang Clock.”

This will certainly be a position to keep an eye on as the preseason progresses. It was something I was watching last week, and it will be something I’ll be watching every week until the situation seems to settle itself. If Meriweather does indeed lose his starting job, the next questions are: Does he stay with the team? In the last year of his rookie contract, can the Patriots work a trade and deal him?

**UPDATE** (10:53 pm)According to reports from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Pats are not planning on signing Sharper or Hill (or WR Houshmandzadeh). At least not right now. Perhaps they liked what they saw from Sergio Brown with the first unit?

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Topics: Brandon Meriweather, Darren Sharper, James Sanders, New England Patriots, NFL, NFL Free Agency, Patrick Chung, Patriots Personnel Moves, Patriots Roster, Reynaldo Hill, Sergio Brown

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