Meriweather looks for fresh start with Bears

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Brandon Meriweather delivered some big shots for the New England Patriots. He wouldn't take any fresh ones at them, though.

The Pro Bowl safety insisted he's just looking forward to a fresh start with the Chicago Bears and had nothing but praise for the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick on Monday.

"I have a lot of respect for that organization," he said. "I have a lot of respect for Bill and the rest of the people, the rest of the staff there, but that's behind me."

The Patriots released Meriweather on Saturday even though he was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons. He agreed to a one-year deal with Chicago a day later, joining a team that won the NFC North at 11-5 and advanced to the conference championship game.

He called the Bears "a first-class organization" and said he hopes to be ready for the opener against Atlanta this season. He also sidestepped questions about his role and the reasons the Patriots gave him for releasing him.

"That's between me and coach," Meriweather said.

Pressed on that, he responded: "I'm sure if you called Bill and asked him, I'm sure he'd give you all the details."

Meriweather was a first-round pick with 244 total tackles and 12 interceptions over four seasons. In 2009, he had a career-high five interceptions and made the first of two straight Pro Bowls, but the Patriots opted not to keep him.

"Brandon played a lot of good football for us," Belichick said. "We kept the players this year that we felt would be the best makeup for the 2011 team. It's not the 2009 team; it's the 2011 team, so those are the players that we've selected."

The fact that one of the most successful organizations released him might set off some alarms. It didn't at Halas Hall, though.

"I don't see what Belichick has to do with us," coach Lovie Smith said. "We make our decisions based on what we see. We like Brandon being a part of our team."

Meriweather joins a defense in Chicago that ranked ninth overall, but just 20th against the pass last season. The Bears rely heavily on takeaways and he should help in that area, considering his 12 interceptions the past three years are tied for fourth among NFL safeties.

Chris Harris and Major Wright have been starting at safety for Chicago, and if he expects to supplant one of them, Meriweather wasn't saying.

"I expect to do whatever the coach asks me to do," he said. "If he comes in and asks me to play on special teams, I expect to do that. I just want to come in and contribute any way I can."

Would he be surprised if he didn't start at some point?

"Surprised? Like I said earlier, nothing in this league surprises me anymore," he said.

He'll have to adjust quickly to the cover-2 after playing in a 3-4 with the Patriots. It's a defense known for its simplicity in some ways, relying on speed and aggression. In that sense, it could be a good fit for Meriweather, who tends to freelance.

Even so, there's still quite a bit to digest.

"As a safety, you have to learn everything that's going on, unlike a corner," Harris said. "Corners, they don't really have to learn the entire defense. As a safety, you need to know what's going on. You need to know what those linebackers are doing because of run gaps. You need to know what this linebacker's doing because of pass coverage or what this corner's doing or what the other safety's doing. You have to learn a lot, but he's a very bright guy from what I can tell just from talking to him."

Meriweather's aggression has gotten him in trouble in the past, whether the result was a big gain for the opponent or a big hit to his checkbook.

He was initially fined $50,000 last season after a helmet-on-helmet hit to Baltimore's Todd Heap, a penalty that was later reduced to $40,000. Before that, he was known mostly for his role in an on-field fight during a 2006 game against Florida International while at Miami. A few months earlier, he fired a gun at an assailant who had shot Miami backup safety Willie Cooper outside the house Cooper shared with Meriweather and another teammate, police said. Meriweather wasn't charged and police said he used the gun legally.

In Chicago, he's looking forward to a fresh start. He's reuniting with college teammate Devin Hester and he sees a good fit.

So do the Bears.

"The guy's made plays his entire career," Harris said. "Anytime you can get a guy of that caliber on your roster, I think it definitely makes your team better."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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