ASHBURN, Va. -- From the moment Brandon Meriweather returned to the Washington Redskins in free agency, this outcome was always a possibility. So when he was suspended on Monday for two games for another illegal hit, it's no surprise. There's just disappointment that this day arrived before the season even started. Not to mention more questions: How long will it be before his hits land him in trouble again? How many more games might he miss? Can he now play 14 games without another suspension?
Meriweather insists he has tried to alter his style. The Redskins, his teammates in particular and some coaches, insist it was not an illegal hit. But the problem is: Meriweather's history left him no benefit of the doubt. His teammates might see him lowering his shoulder and trying to change his ways; the NFL sees contact between his helmet and Torrey Smith's facemask. The NFL's judgment is the only one that matters.
Meriweather worked with fellow safety Ryan Clark on trying to alter his tackling. In the same game, when Clark drilled tight end Dennis Pitta, forcing his helmet off, the Redskins' safety turned his shoulder as he approached. There was no doubt he led with the shoulder. Meriweather's hit left too much doubt; the Ravens likely would say there was no doubt in the first place.
For Meriweather, though, he has been suspended once already for his hits and fined five times. He will not get the benefit of any doubt. It's a tough rule for safeties in particular, players coming up hard to hit receivers. But it's the rule and numerous players have adjusted to this new way of life. If Meriweather can't adjust more than he says he has, then this will arise again. He makes bang-bang plays and sometimes it's hard to fully think about what you're going to do; you react and old habits surface.
And the real problem for Washington is that its safety position is precarious. Meriweather was playing well this summer, having returned to strong safety. He had a big hit earlier against Baltimore running back Bernard Pierce off a well-timed blitz. Meriweather was playing fast. But for the Redskins, he's a cross-your-fingers guy because of his reputation. Playing 16 games was going to be difficult for that reason. That's a hard way to live for a team.
Which all leads us to, of course, that the Redskins needed a strong backup plan. Do they have one? The guy they hoped would be Meriweather's backup, Phillip Thomas, can't stay healthy. He missed two weeks with a hamstring injury earlier this summer and now has a bad foot. Oh, it just so happens to be the same foot that he had surgery on a year ago after suffering a Lisfranc injury. He has also never played in an NFL game.
The Redskins also have Bacarri Rambo, who has played much better this summer after struggling as a rookie. He started at free safety last season, but the Redskins' defense requires their safeties to be somewhat interchangeable. He filled in some with the first team when Meriweather missed a couple practices this summer.
It's not a great situation for Meriweather. But it's also not surprising -- nor will it be if it happens again.