Branch still working to be part of receiving corps
The Sports Xchange
With so many additions during the offseason, and,
of course, the looming presence of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, it's easy to overlook the veteran wide receiver who remains
a wild card entering his 12th season.
Former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch is back for his
seventh season in New England, which spans two stints - the first
beginning in his rookie year of 2002 and running until 2005, and the
second beginning in 2010 when the Patriots reacquired him following his
disastrous tenure in Seattle.
As previously stated, it's easy for Branch to get
lost in the shuffle considering the additions of Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth, but Branch is still one of Tom Brady's
favorite targets, stemming largely from his efforts in 2003 and 2005
when he combined for more than 120 catches and eight touchdowns.
Though he'll turn 33 in July, Branch figures to
have a few more miles left on his 5-9 frame, and with more help on deep
routes, he could be the unforgotten weapon in the passing game.
"I'm enjoying the new things that we're doing,"
Branch said this week at team workouts. "(I'm) just trying to keep up
on everything as much as I can. Coach got all the guys, asking them to
do a lot of things."
Branch is particularly excited to be reunited with
former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who officially rejoined
the team during the offseason after a brief stint as Broncos' head
coach and Rams offensive coordinator. McDaniels was the architect of
New England's offense during Branch's most successful season in 2005.
"I had him my last year, which was a great year,"
he said. "We didn't finish how we wanted to, but it was a great season.
I think having him back here with all the new things that he's picked
up is good."
Even if he doesn't replicate those numbers from
2005 under McDaniels' guidance (he caught 78 passes for 998 yards that
season), Branch can serve as occasional deep threat and liaison between
Brady and the younger receivers, many of whom will be relied upon to
produce in 2013.
"Always," Branch said when asked if he is helping
out the rookies, "and at the same time we're just trying to pick up
some new things as well. Josh is throwing a lot of different wrinkles
at us, and I think the guys are doing a great job."
The competition doesn't worry Branch; though
there's a chance he could fall victim to the numbers game at the end of
training camp, he enjoys the camaraderie and the rivalries that develop
over the course of time, even if they threaten his job security.
"It's always good (to have competition), and lot
of fun, too - a lot of fun," Branch said. "We're having a lot of fun,
and we're enjoying it. There's a lot of different things in. (Not) too
much playing going on right now, because everybody's still picking up
all the different things."
After a disappointing loss in the Super Bowl,
there won't be much "playing" in camp this summer, other than the
occasional lighthearted humor to break up the monotony. This team is on
a mission, much as it is every year, and there's the realization that
the window of opportunity could be closing soon. Veterans such as
Branch are among those who are on the final few laps, and they're
looking to deliver soon in order to maximize the potential of the
younger players on the roster.
Nonetheless, when asked if he's had time to
reflect on his career up until this point, Branch said, "Not really."
He's following the company line, which is win at all costs.
"I'm enjoying it. I love it each and every day I'm
out there with the guys," he said. "We're having fun. They make me feel
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