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Thursday, February 2, 2012
Bears learned tough lesson on Meriweather

By Jeff Dickerson

Brandon Meriweather
Brandon Meriweather proved to be a bust in his one -- and likely only -- season with the Bears.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Belichick taught the Chicago Bears a valuable lesson.

When the New England Patriots cut a player still believed to be in his prime, watch out, because there was probably a good reason behind his release.

The Bears got burned last year when they picked up New England castoff Brandon Meriweather to the tune of a one-year deal worth $3.25 million. The safety turned out to be a disappointment in Chicago, starting just four games in what is expected to be his one and only season with the Bears. Even with all their problems on defense in 2011, the Patriots still felt they were better off without Meriweather, a former first-round pick with two consecutive Pro Bowl selections on his resume.

How did New England see what the Bears could not?

Patriots defensive backs coach Josh Boyer politely declined to comment directly on Meriweather during media availability for Super Bowl XLVI, but was willing to reveal exactly what New England requires at the safety position.

In other words, read between the lines.

"The first thing we look at is if a guy is physical, if he can tackle, can he makes tackles in-line in the box and can he make tackles in the open field," Boyer said. "Then we look for guys who have good ball skills, who can track and locate guys in the air. They need some sort of range where they can cover from the middle of the field to the sideline.

"I would say, much like baseball, the strength of your defense is probably up the middle. With our interior linemen making calls up front, to our linebackers making calls up to our linemen and also back to the secondary, and our safeties making calls to the corners and linebackers."

And here's the key: a safety cannot be responsible for busted coverages. That happened way too often for the Bears in 2011, and not just due to Meriweather. Major Wright had his share of memorable lapses in coverage, which in turn, cost the Bears dearly in several big games.

"The safeties have to make sure we are in the correct coverages," Boyer said. "Football intelligence is very important for that position. They must have a lot of flexibility to recognize offensive formations, to recognize route concepts on the snap, then be able to get themselves in a good position to play."