FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The signs have been there for everyone to see.
In the preseason opener, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick rested some of his top players, but two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather wasn't one of them. Meriweather played the entire first half, logging 37 snaps.
Then in Monday's practice, Meriweather's repetitions with the first unit were reduced, taken instead by Sergio Brown, a former practice squad player who was promoted to the roster in the middle of the 2010 season.
This came one day after Meriweather was replaced in drills following a long pass from quarterback Tom Brady to receiver Chad Ochocinco. On the play, fellow safety Patrick Chung was closest in coverage, but it was Meriweather who got the hook.
Add in the Patriots making an offer to free-agent safety Dashon Goldson last week before Goldson decided to re-sign with the 49ers, and Meriweather -- a 2007 first-round draft choice -- finds himself on shaky ground. Or, at the least, the coaches are attempting to light a fire under him.
When asked about Meriweather on Monday, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio touched on his production and experience in the team's system. He called him a talented player.
But just as defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth talked about leaving things in the past upon his arrival to New England, what matters now for Meriweather is not what happened between 2007 and 2010, but instead, how he fits into this year's defense.
And that fit is in question.
"Is it perfect? No. Is he working hard to get better? That's the most important thing," Caserio said, not answering his own question and perhaps providing a hint to what is irking the team when it comes to Meriweather.
"I think the biggest thing is each year is kind of its own entity, so the most important thing is you're just looking for improvement over the course of time. I think Brandon has improved since he's been here and continues to improve."
When it comes to safety play, though, it isn't just individual improvement that is important. Showing an ability to work alongside another safety as a duo also is key, and Meriweather has admitted in the past to freelancing. The trickle-down effect is that it can negatively affect the safety lining up next to him; in this case, Chung.
Chung directed all personnel questions to coach Bill Belichick on Monday, saying it wasn't his place to talk about the different combinations at safety in practice. But when it came to the importance of communication among safeties, who serve as the last line of defense, he was happy to expound.
There have been times in training camp where the communication hasn't been up to the level it needs to be and the Tom Brady-led offense has carved up the secondary.
"You can never have too good commnuication, it has to be perfect, 'boom, boom, boom!' so you can play instinctely and play fast. That's your right-hand man, period. You have to communicate with just pointing, just eyes," Chung said, adding that the best way to develop that with a fellow safety is "being next to him every play, in practice, and even in the meeting room."
Entering this training camp, a Chung-Meriweather pairing seemed like it could be a strength. They are highly touted players who were selected with the team's top pick two years apart from each other.
But the picture looks different now, and if things don't turn around quickly, one wonders how much longer Meriweather will be in it.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.