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Meriweather settling in; Thursday morning notes

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In this case maybe literally dropping the ball is better than figuratively doing so.

Many fans probably remember that 2007 first-round pick Brandon Meriweatherdropped a number of potential interceptions as a rookie, near plays that left everyone from fellow safety Rodney Harrison to Bill Belichick joking at times about his not so handy work.

"I have," Belichick responded Thursday when asked if he'd seen an offseason improvement in Meriweather ball skills. "Pretty much only one way to go."

But maybe lost in the dropped balls from a year ago was the fact that the former Miami star made huge strides over the course of his rookie season, eventually working into the regular rotation for a secondary that came within minutes of a Super Bowl title.

Now, in his second pro training camp, Meriweather is feeling the huge benefits from a year in the system. After splitting his reps at corner and safety last training camp, the sophomore has gotten plenty of reps this summer at safety with the first defense due in part to the fact that Harrison kicked off camp on PUP while James Sanders has missed the last three days of work for unknown reasons.

Regardless of where he's lining up, the biggest change for the athletic safety is his overall comfort level.

"It's just like everything. Once you did something for a whole year, of course you are going to feel a lot more comfortable," Meriweather said after a physical Thursday morning full-pads workout. "Comfort gives you the ability to be more free, understanding of the defense and doing the things that help the defense out just a little bit more."

It also allows Meriweather to play a more vocal, confident role in the secondary. Harrison, Sanders and linebacker Tedy Bruschi have all commented on his improved communication in the defensive backfield. Of course he jokes that he still understands his role in the unit.

"I'm not bossing them around. That's Hot Rod," he quipped of Harrison. "Can't nobody boss the leader around."

And while he's more confident in his game, he also admits that he's still very much learning from the guys ahead of him on the depth chart.

"Both guys are great safeties. Both of them know the defense very, very well," Meriweather said of action lining up at various times with Harrison and Sanders. "So I'm just learning from both of them. It's not like I would pick one or the other because both of them are great. I just like learning from both of them."

Learning from them, much like he learned from the drops of his rookie season. Meriweather claims ball skills were never an issue for him at Miami, but that after last year he worked hard this spring doing drills to improve his hands, including ball drills with Harrison and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.

"It was just a different thing. It was something I needed to focus on a little more and work on," Meriweather said. "Something that I thought came automatic, that I didn't really have to work on, I found out I did. In college I made those catches and having fun doing it. It's something I never had to work on. But now I know it's something different."

The work has already paid off. Meriweather had an interception in Tuesday's afternoon workout and has been around the ball on a regular basis in the first week of camp.

"Every one you catch you get a little more confidence in yourself. You are starting to put stuff behind you," Meriweather admitted. "So every one I put my hands on that I actually come up with it just that much more of a confidence boost."

Combine that with everything else Meriweather has learned over the last year and the young safety is doing anything but let opportunities he's getting early in his career fall through his fingers.

Pollard knows great QBs
Veteran tight end Marcus Pollard has a unique perspective on the two guys generally considered the best quarterbacks in the game today. The 14th year veteran ten seasons with the Colts, the bulk of which included catching passes from Peyton Manning.

Now, the first-year Patriot is catching training camp reps from reigning NFL MVP Tom Brady. And while he's just getting to know the two-time Super Bowl MVP, he feels like he has a handle on why the two passers have had such impressive success.

"Both are very smart, intelligent quarterbacks. Very knowledgeable about the game. Both are serious competitors, hate losing at all costs. Tall. Strong arms. I don't know Tom very well yet, but they seem like they're just great guys to be around every day.

"I think they are just two great quarterbacks. I think they found a way to be successful. It came with a lot of hard work and they paid a lot of the prices where a lot of guys would leave early and these guys stay and watch film and do the extra. In my opinion they are where they are now because of the work that they do, not necessarily because it was given to them."

Practice notes
The team activated rookie free agent center Ryan Wendell from PUP, leaving eight player on the PUP list at this point. … Before the start to practice the team continued what has become a training camp tradition with the rookies. The young players had to dive on a loose ball on a soggy, wet portion of the practice field on the furthest corner of facility away from fans and media members. While the rookies ran and dove on the ball they were squirted with a garden hose. The players then had to practice in some pretty wet cloths and pads. … Beyond the eight players still on PUP those not on the field for the morning workout included Jason Webster, James Sanders, Vince Redd, Matt Lightand David Thomas. … Punter Chris Hanson literally took one on the chin when rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo knocked him off his feet during a kickoff return drill. Hanson, the team's only punter in camp, was working as an outside coverage guy on the scout kick team. … Kevin O'Connell got his most significant reps of camp in team work, but the rookie continues to struggle with inconsistent throws. … Practice closed with a full-contact goal line drill that pitted the first teams on both sides of the ball against each other. Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan both had solid, second-effort touchdown runs in the action. Belichick joked of the double-edged nature of the drill afterwards, "We win and we lose." … The Patriots return to the practice field at 4 p.m. for a one-hour, fifteen-minute workout that's open to the public. New England does not have practice on Friday and will return to the field for a workout on Saturday at 2:30 that is closed to the public due to a concert at Gillette. The only public practice of the weekend is scheduled for Sunday at 2:30, but as always fans are urged to check patriots.com for camp updates before heading to Foxborough to watch workouts.

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