It’s still grind time - Camp breaks but Pats rookie DBs have plenty of work left

Eric McHugh

FOXBORO - As the only two rookie draft picks in the secondary, you would expect some kind of bond to have developed between Brandon Meriweather and Mike Richardson. Sure enough, Richardson said the two are ‘‘real close.’’

In terms of their positions, yes, because Meriweather, primarily a safety in college, has been used mostly at cornerback in training camp.

In terms of their chances of making the roster, maybe no, considering that Meriweather was the 24th overall pick and Richardson lasted until the sixth round.

In terms of being noticed in the preseason opener, yes again, as both at least gave the coaching staff something to ponder when they went over the video from last Friday’s 13-10 loss in Tampa.

Meriweather was one of the busiest Patriots, logging as much time as anyone in the steamy heat of Florida. That’s just what he was expecting.

‘‘I’ve been watching football for a while, so I figured the starters weren’t going to play as much,’’ he said. ‘‘We never really talked about (playing time), but just me watching preseason games since I was little, I kind of figured that.’’

Richardson might not have matched Meriweather for sheer snaps, but he did get his hands on a Bruce Gradkowski deep pass in the third quarter, leaping up to deflect it away from 6-1 receiver Chad Lucas, who had two inches on Richardson. The play came inside the Patriots’ 5-yard line.

‘‘I wish I could have come up with the ball,’’ said Richardson, a Notre Dame product who was the second of the Patriots’ four sixth-round picks in April, ‘‘but it was a positive that I didn’t actually give up a big play on that play. I was in the right position. I just used what I’ve been taught - go up to the high point and try to get the ball.’’

Coach Bill Belichick was lukewarm in his assessment of Richardson, but that’s probably the best you can get out of him at this time of year. The coach did say he liked Richardson’s aggressive style.

Richardson also had a nice leaping interception on a downfield throw at Monday night’s practice. Just like old times? Not quite. Asked if he had been tested deep much at Notre Dame, Richardson said, ‘‘Early on in my career. Not too many of those turned out too good for me, but you learn from them and you get better.’’

Notre Dame’s defensive woes during Richardson’s stay are well documented, which may or may not have hurt his draft stock. Miami was bad, too, in 2006, but it wasn’t the Hurricanes’ on-field woes (they were 7-6) that stained Meriweather’s reputation. It was the gunfire incident and his starring role in the brawl with Florida International.

It’s a measure of how well Meriweather has played here that no one’s talking about that stuff anymore.

Coming out of a program known for its brash personalities (Michael Irvin, Ray Lewis, Sean Taylor), Meriweather has drawn praise for being more ears than mouth.

‘‘What I can say about him is that he’s great listener,’’ fellow corner Ellis Hobbs said. ‘‘He’s a young guy but he listens. Whatever you’re trying to tell him, he understands that you’re telling him for a reason. He’s going out there, and he’s making the effort to change.

‘‘Is he going to do the right thing all the time? No. None of us will. And I speak from experience. But with time and patience and effort and the willingness to go out there and want to change and become better, he’ll get better.’’

Meriweather said he understands he has a lot to learn and a short time in which to do it. With franchise-tagged corner Asante Samuel holding out and Chad Scott on injured reserve, the Patriots are counting on Meriweather to soak up knowledge quickly.

‘‘That’s the attitude I want to keep for life,’’ he said. ‘‘Even when I’m 80, if I make it to be that old, I always feel like there’s always something to learn.’’

The main thing on his plate now, obviously, is cramming for NFL Cornerback 101.

‘‘When you play a guy at ‘Star,’ our nickel back position, that’s really a corner-type guy,’’ defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. ‘‘That’s always been (filled by the likes of) Hank Poteat, Ray Mickens, Randall Gay. It’s been all those guys who are corner types, and yet at the same time they can play some safety.

‘‘That’s where we’re looking at him first. We’re hoping that he can be a corner. We’re trying him a little bit everywhere to really see where his best strength is going to be. Now’s the time to do that, not when the season starts.’’

Meriweather said he just wants to get ready for football, regardless of the position. The Patriots broke training camp Wednesday, but he’s not kidding himself into thinking he’s arrived just because he survived that four-week ordeal.

‘‘I still have things to work on,’’ he said. ‘‘I still have the playbook to learn. Camp is not broken, not for me. I’m still a rookie ... For me, it’s still grind time.’’

Same for Richardson, with the added hurdle of less job security, no matter how many deep throws he short-circuits.

‘‘You never can be comfortable,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘You never want to be content with where you’re at.’’

Eric McHugh of The Patriot Ledger (Quncy, Mass.) may be reached at emchugh@ledger.com.