|B. MERIWEATHER A treat to play with (FILE/Barry Chin/Globe Staff)|
FOXBOROUGH - His teammates no longer regard him as a rookie, especially now that the Patriots have turned the page on their historic 16-0 regular season and set their sights on extending that perfection in the playoffs.
But that has not absolved Brandon Meriweather of his rookie duties.
"He still brings us doughnuts and coffee, so he's still a rookie in that sense," said veteran safety Rodney Harrison. "But he's no longer a rookie. He's out there playing football. But he'd better continue with the Dunkin' Donuts or else he'll get tied up."
The defensive back out of the University of Miami chuckled when apprised of Harrison's remarks yesterday at Gillette Stadium. "It's been almost like two college seasons, so I guess I'm not a rookie anymore, huh?" Meriweather said.
In one sense, yes. In another, no.
"Yeah, I've still got to bring all the coffee and I've got to bring all the doughnuts," Meriweather acknowledged. "And I've still got to get lunch for all the players before we travel to away games, so I guess I'm still a rookie until the first game of next year."
Selected in the first round (24th overall), Meriweather, who set a record for defensive backs at Miami with 293 career tackles, was projected as a hard hitter with the versatility to play safety or cornerback. Meriweather made 21 of his 31 starts for the Hurricanes at strong safety, six at free safety, two at right cornerback, one at left cornerback, and one at nickel back.
"Well, when you draft a player, you get the total player," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "You get everything, so that's why we took him. He is a versatile player. There's a lot of things that he does well that were reasons why we drafted him."
Above all, Meriweather offered the Patriots a tantalizing mix of size, speed, talent, and athleticism.
"To be honest with you, I really didn't know what would be my strong suit," Meriweather said. "Just coming into the league you never know what a team may need or what a team may want you to do. I just came in with an open mind thinking that I would be a player for the New England Patriots."
Meriweather went through an adjustment period - as is the case with all rookies - but made his mark on special teams, where he has recorded 18 tackles this season, including seven in the last five games.
"I think he's come along," said defensive coordinator Dean Pees. "He's worked hard throughout the year. I think he's progressed. He's got himself in a position where he's getting some playing time here as of late, so I just think he has progressed this year and he's playing certainly a lot better right now than he played earlier in the year. We're pleased with him, the way he's working, and he's learning all the time and getting better."
Although he has benefited from the mentoring of Harrison and others in the secondary, Meriweather credits much of his progress to Belichick.
"I can't even begin to explain the ways; he did a lot for me," said Meriweather. "Me and Bill, we meet a lot, actually. We go over things - little extra things - that I needed, things to look for, keys to look for, all the little things I needed as a rookie. He helped me out with those things."
Belichick knew Meriweather had a lot to learn in his first year.
"There's a different level in the game between college and pro football, and then there's a new system to learn and new terminology, different offenses and different opponents, and that kind of thing," Belichick said. "Brandon's worked hard. He's certainly come a long way. He still has a long way to go, like every rookie, but he's made a lot of progress, he continues to work hard and be attentive and gain from all of the experiences that he has, both in the classroom and on the practice field and the game field, and all that he can continue to improve."
So, how far does Meriweather feel he's progressed?
"I think I've made steps, small steps, but no gigantic big steps," he said. "I still do the things rookies do and I still make mistakes. But eventually I'll make those steps I need to make under the tutoring of 'Hot Rod' [Harrison] and the rest of the players."
And while he hasn't outgrown his rookie obligations to his teammates - namely, doughnut runs - Meriweather has shown the Patriots considerable growth in his first season.
"Just the confidence [he has] in himself," Harrison said. "I think, as a young player, you tend to doubt yourself over the course of a long season. But I think he's a very confident kid and he knows exactly what he's doing and he's just out there playing football. And I think it shows."
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.