FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -The Patriots drafted safety Brandon Meriweather to hit opponents hard before the whistle, and stay out of trouble after it.
New England coach Bill Belichick said he thinks Meriweather can do that, despite an incident in which the Miami star kicked several Florida International players during a game Oct. 14.
``He ran over there and made a bad decision. I don't think that's who he is,'' Belichick said after taking Meriweather with the 24th pick on Saturday. ``I spent time with him (and) a lot of people in that program and I think football's important to him.
``All of us have made mistakes.''
Meriweather, known for his versatility, became more widely known - through repeated television replays - for the kicking incident, which came in apparent retaliation after opposing players hit one of his teammates. He was suspended for one game and issued a letter of apology.
``I made a bad decision, one I shouldn't have made,'' Meriweather said Saturday. ``That won't ever happen again.''
About three months before the fight, on July 21, Meriweather shot at an assailant who had shot Miami backup safety Willie Cooper outside the house Cooper shared with Meriweather and another teammate, police said. They said he used the gun legally.
``Me and coach Belichick, we sat down and talked about it,'' Meriweather said. ``I just said it was a dumb decision by me.''
``Obviously,'' Belichick said, ``we were comfortable with Meriweather.''
The Patriots were the only team that went into the draft with two first-round choices. Meriweather was taken with the pick obtained last season in a trade with Seattle for wide receiver Deion Branch.
They also had their own selection, the 28th, but traded that to San Francisco on Saturday for a fourth-round choice this year and a first-rounder next year. They did not have a second-round pick this year, having sent that to Miami for wide receiver Wes Welker on March 5.
Belichick considered Welker better than anyone he could have drafted with that pick, the 60th overall.
``I feel good about that trade,'' Belichick said.
The Patriots had one other pick Saturday, the 91st overall. The last four rounds of the seven-round draft are scheduled for Sunday.
Meriweather could be a backup next season for both regular safeties.
Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson missed considerable parts of last season with the Patriots, who still made it to the AFC championship game and led 21-3. But they lost to Indianapolis 38-34, ending their second straight season without a Super Bowl title after winning three of the previous four.
Harrison was sidelined six games by a broken right shoulder blade, then for all three playoff games with a strained right knee last season. In 2005, he played just the first three games before a knee injury ended his season. Wilson was sidelined for all but four games.
Meriweather isn't overly big - 5-feet-11 and 192 pounds - but led Miami with 115 tackles in 2005. That dropped to 92 last season.
``He's got a physical element to his play. He's not 225 pounds, but, for his size, he's certainly not afraid to get up in there and tackle,'' Belichick said. ``He's around the ball. I think he's a very instinctive player.''
Last season, the Patriots drafted offensive players with their first four picks, starting with running back Laurence Maroney at No. 21. He is the starter now after splitting time as a rookie with Corey Dillon.
The Patriots were expected to focus on defense on the first day of the two-day draft after stocking up on offensive players in free agency - adding wide receivers Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington, running back Sammy Morris and tight end Kyle Brady.
They did sign linebacker Adalius Thomas from Baltimore, perhaps the top free agent on the market.
Meriweather was the third safety drafted, behind Michael Griffin of Texas, who was taken by Tennessee, and Reggie Nelson of Florida, who was drafted by Jacksonville.

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