Jobs may not be safe

Patriots seem unsettled in the secondary

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / August 17, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - It has become clear in recent days that the Patriots are not happy with what they have at the safety position.

The first sign came two Sundays ago, when they hosted - and then offered a contract to - Dashon Goldson. A 26-year-old who started all 32 games over the last two seasons for the 49ers, Goldson ultimately decided to re-sign with San Francisco.

Then came word that the Patriots would have Darren Sharper in for a workout. Sharper, a 14-year veteran who was a key member of the Saints’ run to the Super Bowl in the 2009 season, is 36 and underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee shortly after New Orleans’s win over Indianapolis in that game.

He played in just eight games last year, missing the first six.

Sharper’s workout was done behind closed doors, but during Monday’s practice, there was another sign: Sergio Brown took the majority of the first-team snaps alongside Patrick Chung, stepping in over Brandon Meriweather.

Yesterday, Meriweather and Brown split repetitions with the top defense once again, this time with Meriweather appearing to have the edge in number of snaps.

Nick Caserio, the Patriots director of player personnel, said Monday that bringing in players for workouts is just part of “due diligence,’’ and he would not talk specifics about Sharper.

But two league sources have told the Globe that the Patriots are unhappy with Meriweather, who was roundly criticized for his play last year despite being selected to the Pro Bowl for the second straight year.

Caserio said Meriweather, now in his fifth season, has been productive for New England.

“He’s got a lot of experience in our system,’’ said Caserio. “He’s a talented player. Is it perfect? No. Is he working to get better? That’s the most important thing.

“I think Brandon has improved since he’s been here.’’

New England’s depth at safety is already thin, since James Sanders has missed all but four practices. If Sanders is healthy, pairing him and Chung is likely the best option, but it isn’t known right now when Sanders will be able to get back on the field.

Chung wouldn’t say much about playing time for Brown and Meriweather.

“That’s not for me to comment,’’ he said. “Whoever is out there is out there, period. If it’s me and Brandon, if it’s Brandon and Sergio, if it’s James, it doesn’t matter who is out there to me. Whoever is out there, you have to be able to play next to them.

“We all know the same things. We all know our responsibilities. We all know what we have to do regardless of who is out there.’’

The most important thing, Chung said, is that there is communication between the players roaming the backfield.

“It’s very, very critical, because if we mess up, it’s more than just a couple yard gain,’’ Brown said. “You have to be able to communicate, you have to know your teammates, know what they’re thinking. And if you don’t, you’ve got to at least talk and be able to know everything that you’re supposed to do and you have to know what everyone around you does so it will be easier for you to talk and know the defense.’’

The second-year player out of Notre Dame, an undrafted free agent last year who was promoted off the practice squad just before a game in San Diego, said he feels more confident this year but knows he’s still fighting for a spot.

For what it’s worth, Bill Belichick may not be that enamored of Brown. When asked yesterday about Andre Carter, he raved about the veteran defensive lineman the team brought aboard this month. But a couple of questions later, when asked to assess Brown’s performance in camp, he said he wouldn’t “get into an analysis of every player’’ and that in general the players who have been on the field practicing have made progress.

“Sergio is in good condition, he’s worked hard, and he hasn’t missed any time,’’ said Belichick. “He’s been out there on a consistent basis and he’s gotten better, like I would say everybody else has who has been out there on a consistent basis working at it. How could you not improve?’’

In the preseason opener against Jacksonville, while many defensive starters got the night off, Meriweather and Chung played the entire first half together. It will be telling if that changes tomorrow night in Tampa Bay.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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