Bears' newest safety a low-risk addition

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Aside from calling new teammate Chris Harris "Chris Henry" in his first official comments as a Chicago Bears' player, Brandon Meriweather should fit in just fine.

Harris, who was sitting in the next stall playing reporter, will no doubt get over Meriweather's slip as long as his own playing time and/or future with the team won't be affected. And Meriweather is so happy to be here, he even said he'd be happy on special teams.

All kidding aside, while criticizing Jerry Angelo and his brain trust for their draft picks and transactions -- and lack thereof -- has provided untold hours of material and all kinds of fun over the years, this one is a no-brainer and deserves kudos.

Any legitimate knocking of the Bears today for signing the two-time Pro Bowl safety to a one-year contract after he was cut by the New England Patriots over the weekend will have to wait until it officially qualifies as Monday Morning quarterbacking.

Sure, there's always skepticism when any player is waived, especially by one of the better teams in the league at evaluating talent. But Meriweather, 27, gives the secondary a bona fide talent in his prime and some much-needed depth at safety.

"He's had 12 interceptions the past three years, four forced fumbles, two sacks, 20-something [27] pass breakups," Harris recited without notes. "I think I know his stats better than y'all. I do my homework.

"He's a certified playmaker. The guy has made plays his entire career, so anytime you can get a guy of that caliber on your roster, I think it definitely makes your team better."

Meriweather's addition also provides instant speculation on what this means for the future of Harris, whose contract expires after this season, and the present for Major Wright.

As one of the most valuable players on the Bears' defense during the second half of the 2010 season, Harris' starting role at strong safety cannot possibly be in any danger for now. And despite a tweet response upon news of the signing that could be interpreted as his nose being slightly out of joint -- "I just work here," Harris wrote when asked how Meriweather would fit in -- he said he did not so much as get a lump in his throat.

"Nope," he said. "One thing you'll learn about me, I'm a very confident person. I think adding a guy of that caliber is excellent for our defense."

Indeed, we have already learned that about Harris in his two tours with the Bears. Wright, on the other hand, is still a bit of a mystery after missing five games due to injury his rookie season and enduring a mini-run of key missed tackles this preseason.

Bears coach Lovie Smith has been fiercely protective of his third-round draft pick, but we'll see how sincere that is if Meriweather bumps Wright out of the starting lineup early on. However it shakes out, the safety position -- including Craig Steltz when he gets over a hip injury sustained in the Bears' final preseason game last Thursday -- instantly becomes one of the deepest on the team and a boon to an already strong defense.

"Competition raises everyone's level of play," Harris said. "Anytime you bring a guy in at your position, competition is great. It only makes your level of play better and therefore the team's level of play better."

The pros on Meriweather include hiss never missing a game in his four NFL seasons, and his 12 picks over the last three years is tied for fourth-best in the league for a safety during that span.

The cons? Well, the next helmet-to-helmet hit he makes is sure to be met with a hefty fine and a suspension after he was penalized $50,000 but not suspended for his shot on then-Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap during a particularly violent Week 6 in the NFL last season.

Asked how difficult it is for a naturally aggressive player to not cross the line, Meriweather smiled.

"I can't answer that," he said. "You're trying to get me in trouble my first day here."

Meriweather was equally humorous when asked why he thought he was released by the Patriots.

"If you call Bill [Belichick] and ask him, I'm sure he'll give you all the details," he said.

Meriweather came into camp in less-than-great shape and his propensity to gamble on defense reportedly gave Belichick enough reason to say goodbye. He is also clearly gambling that Meriweather's best years are already behind him.

"Each year is a new year," Belichick said. "I just don't think you can pick teams, pick your players, based on what's happened in the past. You have to pick them based on what you think is going to happen this year. ... Brandon played a lot of good football for us. We kept the players this year that we felt would be the best makeup for the 2011 team."

It's probably a stretch to expect Meriweather to be able to make a significant impact in a new system in the Bears' season opener this Sunday against Atlanta.

"I don't know," Meriweather said when asked how long it would take for him to be comfortable in switching from a 3-4 to the Bears' 4-3. "I have never been traded or released and I never had to come into a new system besides my rookie year."

Harris said the terminology will probably be the toughest part to learn. As for the scheme, he said, it's all about reading the quarterback.

"We play a lot of zone coverage and [do a lot of] breaking on the ball," he said. "But I'm pretty sure it's a heck of a lot easier defense to learn as opposed to other defenses, so I'm pretty sure he'll pick it up pretty fast."

As for his gambling nature, he might get away with it a little more with the Bears.

"You have to play within the defense," Harris said, "but at the same time you have to let your instincts take over as well and be a ballplayer."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.