FOXBOROUGH - No one player on the Patriots can fill the shoes of safety Rodney Harrison, who is out for the season after tearing his right quadriceps against the Broncos last week, but safety Brandon Meriweather will likely fill Harrison's spot in the starting lineup today against the Rams.
The second-year safety has taken a quantum leap forward in his play this year, after a mediocre rookie campaign. Meriweather, who was drop-prone as a rookie, leads the Patriots in interceptions with three and has been a regular part of the nickel package.
"I think all the opportunities that he had last year that he was missing out on as far as dropping balls, or to be there but not making the play, he's really taken advantage of this year," said cornerback Ellis Hobbs. "You can really see his maturity level."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Meriweather has continued to build on the progress he made the latter half of his rookie season.
"I don't know if there was any defining day, but maybe half to two-thirds of the way through the season last year where things really started to hit the upswing with him," said Belichick. "Whether that was him getting more comfortable with the defense and getting more experience with it or whatever it was, he has really progressed from that point.
"He has made more plays on the ball this year in four or five games than he made last year the entire year, including preseason. I think his awareness, his preparation, his overall decision-making and recognition of what is going on and the quarterbacks and their tendencies, all of those things have improved significantly, and he works hard at it.
"Brandon works hard at the preparation, and I think that has paid off."
Don't expect the Patriots to make a lot of changes to the offense just because they have a shortage of running backs with Sammy Morris (knee) and LaMont Jordan (right calf) both doubtful. Belichick said he expects veteran Kevin Faulk, rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and fullback Heath Evans to do the job.
"That is my expectation because that's what they have done," said Belichick of his running back group. "It's not, 'This is a play for this guy, and that set of plays for another guy, and these are the plays for somebody else.' They have to run the same plays; they have to block the same protections and run the same routes.
"You have to understand, some guys do some things better than others, but in the end we can't cut out 25 percent of our offense because this back is in the game and cut out 25 percent of our offense because another guy comes out on the field. It just doesn't operate that way.
"They all have to be versatile enough to do what we do."
Within his grasp
With six catches today, Wes Welker would become the fourth player in National Football League history to have at least six receptions in each of his team's first seven games of the season, joining Pittsburgh's Hines Ward (2004), former Jacksonville wideout Jimmy Smith (2001), and Mike Ditka, who turned the trick for the 1964 Bears. With one catch, Randy Moss will become the 19th player in NFL history to record 800 career receptions . . . The Rams are making their first visit to Gillette Stadium.