ASHBURN, VA. -- Despite playing less than one full game since signing in March 2012, Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather is expected to be the team's starting strong safety this season, provided he can show that his oft-injured right knee is sound.
The two-time Pro Bowler was originally injured in the second preseason game last August. Meriweather was on the verge of making his regular-season debut with Washington when he hurt the knee again during warm-ups in Week 5 at Tampa Bay. He finally played seven weeks later against the Philadelphia Eagles, and intercepted a pass before his season ended with yet another injury to the same knee.
This spring, the 29-year-old joined fellow rehabbing safety Jordan Bernstine on the sideline for each practice, though he hopes to be back in uniform when training camp begins July 25.
"(Last season) was super-tough, but I'm working hard to get back," Meriweather said. "Every day, I try to do something I didn't do yesterday. I keep trying to get stronger and better. I've never had a torn ACL [before] so I don't know what the timetable's like, but if you ask me if there's any doubt [that I'll be ready for camp], I say no, but you ask the doctors and the trainers they may say yes. So who knows?"
With Meriweather on the mend, the Redskins drafted safeties Phillip Thomas and Baccari Rambo, and signed Devin Holland to compete with him and fellow holdovers Reed Doughty, D.J. Gomes and Jordan Bernstine.
Head coach Mike Shanahan said that Bernstine, who badly injured his right knee in the 2012 opener and has yet to return to the field, might not be ready for the start of camp.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said that while he can definitely envision one of the rookie safeties starting, everything at the position depends on Meriweather's health.
"I think Brandon will be fine once we get to camp," Shanahan said. "He looks pretty good. The one thing you don't want to do when somebody hurts his knee is get him going too quickly. I thought when Brandon played last year, he played exceptionally well."
---The Redskins' signing of veteran wide receiver Donte Stallworth could fortify the receivers group if he returns to form.
Stallworth, 32, spent most of 2011 with Washington, but finished last season with the New England Patriots. Stallworth was battling a high-ankle sprain last year and then was badly burned on the left forearm and the rear end when the hot air balloon he was riding in struck a power line March 16 in Homestead, Fla. His then-girlfriend, who was burned even more seriously, and the pilot also survived the accident.
It wasn't the first off-field misfortune for Stallworth.
Four years and two days earlier in Miami Beach, Stallworth hit and killed a pedestrian while driving under the influence in Miami Beach. He was charged with manslaughter, served 30 days and was sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service and eight years probation. He was suspended by the NFL for the 2009 season.
"My accident four years ago definitely changed my life, and then, after this recent one, you literally cherish every second that you're able to breathe," Stallworth said this week. "It was a setback, but I didn't want it to end my career. I still felt like I could play and play at a high level and that's what I'm trying to prove out here now."
Stallworth had 22 catches, 309 yards and two touchdowns in a reserve role for the Redskins two years ago and Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan were enthusiastic about his return.
"I didn't want to lose Donte a year ago," Shanahan said. "I called him and told him I thought he made a mistake (by signing with) New England. I thought he would have been better being with us just because I liked what he did, what he brought to the table. I was hoping that we could get him back."
Stallworth would still be a long shot to win a spot on the 53-man regular season roster with Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson returning as the top four receivers. Speedy Aldrick Robinson and Dezmon Briscoe are also back from last season.
"I have a lot of rust, a lot of kinks to work out, but it felt great being out here," Stallworth said. "There was some carryover from when I was here last. I was able to remember some of the plays on the fly. I was a little surprised at that, but pleasantly surprised. I still have a lot of friends on this team. Last year, they had a great season and they've been trying to build on that. Hopefully I can be a part of that this season. It's really special for me to be able to have this opportunity. Now I'm just trying to make the most of it."
--Reserve nose tackle Chris Neild, who missed all of 2012 after tearing his left ACL on Aug. 13, is back full-go, albeit with a brace protecting the surgically-repaired knee.
"I'm feeling real good," said Neild, a seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft. "They're easing me into it. I feel it a little bit, but I don't think about it that much. The brace helps. I know when I have it on I have a lot less chance of getting hurt again."