- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Brandon Meriweather chose against re-living his surprise release from the New England Patriots, opting instead Tuesday to speak optimistically about his prospects with the Chicago Bears.
Signed to a one-year contract by the Bears on Monday, Meriweather -- a two-time Pro Bowl selection -- said he's unsure whether he'll play Sunday when the team hosts the Falcons at Soldier Field. Less than an hour after being fitted by the team's equipment staff for pads, Meriweather ran onto the field for practice. The field work finally came after Meriweather stayed up late Monday night studying the team's scheme with assistant defensive backs coach Gill Byrd.
"Do I want to be (ready to play on Sunday)? We'll find out," Meriweather said. "I'm gonna try my best. I'm gonna do a lot of studying."
Meriweather started 40 of 64 games over the past four years for the Patriots, who selected him with the 24th overall pick of the 2007 draft. But in somewhat of a stunning move, the Patriots released him on Saturday.
Meriweather declined to comment specifically about the conversation he had with Patriots coach Bill Belichick upon his release, saying "to be honest, that's between me and coach," adding that that "I'm sure you can call Bill and ask him. I'm sure he'll give you all the details."
Belichick didn't do that, but he definitely indicated on Monday that Meriweather's skills had diminished to the point at which the Patriots felt the need to move on.
"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," Belichick said. "It's not the 2009 team. It's the 2011 team. That's the players we selected. Each year is a new year. 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. That's relative to the competition, the makeup of your team, and the player's performance. All those are obviously a part of it."
Meriweather expressed "respect for Bill, and the rest of the staff (in New England)," adding the situation is "behind me. Now I'm focused on being a Bear."
Steltz and Conte appeared to practice with the team Monday, but an official injury report won't be released until Wednesday.
Bears coach Lovie Smith, meanwhile, indicated the club plans to prepare Meriweather to play as soon as possible.
"We'll get him into the mix," Smith said. "You can't have too many good players at any position."
Right now, Meriweather continues to take a crash course in the Bears defensive system, but isn't sure he'll absorb enough to make meaningful contributions, considering the matchup with the Falcons is less than a week away.
"I have never been traded or released, and I never had to come into a new system besides my rookie year. So I don't know," he said. "I can't answer that. I haven't been able to wrap my mind around all of (this system) as I did with my last team. But I'm looking forward to it. I'm just trying to get better. They gave (the defense) to me fast. Luckily we've got people like Chris (Harris) who know the defense very well and he could help me out with the small questions. I've got Coach Byrd, and the rest of them to help me out with the bigger questions."
With Harris and second-year man Major Wright seemingly firmly entrenched as the starters, it's unlikely Meriweather will wrest away one of those jobs immediately. That's not to say it's impossible. After all, the Bears under Smith have opened the season with eight different combinations at safety over the past eight years.
Smith's penchant for switching out the safeties is well known at Halas Hall, and the addition of Meriweather indicates the team might not be entirely sold on Wright as a starter. But even if that's not the case, Meriweather might provide enough of an upgrade for the club to decide to go another direction at the position.
"He's just a good football player," Smith said. "He can hit. He's got excellent ball skills, change of direction, all of the things we're looking for in a defensive back. He's got a good pedigree, too. We did our research and felt like he's a fit here. We'll see how it goes this game week."
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.
And despite Meriweather's pedigree as a Pro Bowl performer, he seemed to be saying all the right things Tuesday, by hinting that his plans aren't necessarily to come in and start, but "to come in and do whatever the coach asks me to."
Wright, meanwhile, wasn't concerned about the addition or extra competition it might bring.
"(Meriweather is) just going out, working to get better and that's it," Wright said. "I'm very confident in what I'm doing. I know what I'm doing, and there's more room to improve."
Bears receiver Devin Hester played with Meriweather in college at Miami. Hester laughed at recalling college practices, in which the receiver "used to always tell (Meriweather), 'Don't hit me hard,'" Hester said. "I know what type of power he brings when he comes up and hits."
Meriweather also brings intelligence and playmaking ability to the Bears, Hester said. It's an observation the receiver quickly made while the duo played at Miami.
"He's real talented when the ball is in the air; a very smart player," Hester said. "One thing I noticed about him at Miami is he was one of those safeties that knew what the other guys had, and would always get guys in order. If any guy was confused on the defensive side of the ball, he was that guy that knew everything, knew every position."
What Meriweather doesn't know just yet is where he fits in the team's plans.
All he knows is he fits.
"It feels tremendous to come in. All the guys showed me a lot of love when I got here," Meriweather said. "To be playing with an old teammate like Devin Hester again, it just feels great. I think it will be a good fit. The style of defense they play. ... I love Coach Lovie and the organization."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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