AFC East: Deion Branch

Deion Branch among Colts' inactives

January, 11, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots previously ruled out only one player for tonight's game against the Colts, leaving six more to declare inactive.

With a largely healthy 53-man roster, there was more question than usual as to who the team would deactivate.

As it turns out, in addition to wide receiver Aaron Dobson, the Patriots deactivated the following players: defensive end Jake Bequette, guard Chris Barker, tight end D.J. Williams, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, linebacker Steve Beauharnais and cornerback Justin Green.

The Colts declared the following players as inactive: wide receiver Deion Branch, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver Josh Lenz, cornerback Sheldon Price, linebacker Daniel Adongo, center Khaled Holmes, and guard Joe Reitz.

QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: With Dobson as the only injury-related absence, the Patriots deactivated depth-level players beyond that. None of the players who is inactive has had a major role this season, as Sopoaga has not been a factor of late. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder) and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) were both questionable, though each will play tonight. It will be interesting to see if Dennard is inserted as a starter, or if the Patriots stick with rookie Logan Ryan.

On the Colts' front, the biggest news is that Deion Branch is inactive after being signed this week. The former Patriot will not take the field against his old team, though this shouldn't come as a major surprise given how recently he was signed.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had a No. 84 on the practice field on Tuesday, but it wasn't Deion Branch. (It was new addition Reggie Dunn).

Branch
Branch will be wearing No. 86 this weekend, but it won't be for the Patriots.

The longtime Patriot was signed by the Colts, who come to town this week for a divisional-round matchup.

On Tuesday, quarterback Tom Brady was asked about seeing his close friend sign with a new team.

"That's for our defense," he said. "They're going to worry about all those guys, prepare for all those guys. And that's part of guys changing teams and so forth. It's nice to see a guy get an opportunity, especially one of your great friends."

In a follow-up question, Brady was asked if he's spoken with Branch since he signed his deal with the Colts, or whether the two have been in touch of late.

"I keep in touch with a lot of guys," he said. "Over the years, there's been a lot of great friends that I've been lucky enough to play with on this team that are just great people, and you always wish the best for those people.

"Certainly the guys that have played receiver here, the guys I've been close with, because that's probably where the most interaction is," he continued. "All the quarterbacks I've been with and all the receivers I've been with I always keep in touch with those guys."

While it's unclear how much of a role Branch will have this Saturday night, especially with just a week's worth of preparation and playbook study, it will be a unique feeling for all those who were teammates with him for so many years in New England.

What next at wide receiver for Patriots?

September, 13, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Where do the New England Patriots go from here at wide receiver?

[+] EnlargeAaron Dobson
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaAaron Dobson was targeted 10 times Thursday night but finished with only three catches.
That has been a popular question after Thursday night's win over the Jets -- one of the more inept performances for the team’s passing game since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback in 2001.

Too many drops. Too much miscommunication and too many fundamental breakdowns. Too much frustration for Brady.

So now, many who panned veteran receiver Brandon Lloyd during the 2012 season are wondering if a comeback might be possible. Others are asking if Deion Branch might be an upgrade. Or Donte' Stallworth.

Maybe Bill Belichick ultimately decides that’s the way to go. Maybe he saw how uncomfortable Brady looked early on Thursday, considers that Danny Amendola is currently sidelined with a groin injury and determines there is value in bringing back a veteran with knowledge of the system, even if the initial intention was to move on from them.

Still, I’d be surprised if he does that at this point.

As ugly as it was on Thursday night, and no one is saying otherwise, the feeling here is that this is no time to abort the team’s "re-do" with youthful receivers. Instead, the smarter play is to invest further in youth and realize that almost all of the mistakes made Thursday are correctable – the numerous drops, the failure of Aaron Dobson to get his head around at the top of his route and Kenbrell Thompkins not getting enough depth on his routes among them.

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No one said this would be seamless. We all knew there would be growing pains, even if the ones we’ve seen the first two games have been a bit more extreme than anticipated. Brady previously said he’s had to be more of a teacher this year, which requires more patience because this might be the greatest challenge of his career, breaking in the young guys.

As for the topic that lit up some parts of Boston sports radio on Friday -- whether the Patriots have done enough to surround a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback with potent weapons -- it seems fair to ask the question.

But here’s another thought: Perhaps those who are thinking along those lines have lost some perspective of how the Patriots used to win games in their championship days. Those days weren’t always filled with offensive fireworks, as former Patriot and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi brought up on “NFL Live” Friday.

“Tom Brady is holding them to a standard that they can’t maintain, and that’s Tom Brady’s standard. He expects them to be perfect because at times he rarely makes mistakes,” Bruschi said. “He has to lower his standards for these receivers right now. The defense is good and will buy him some time.

“I remember back in 2001, we had a quality defense and we had to pick up our weight a little bit more, pick up the slack, because we had a young quarterback by the name of Tom Brady. We had to wait for him. Now he has to wait for them.”

[+] EnlargeKenbrell Thompkins
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesKenbrell Thompkins couldn't hold on to a pass in the end zone just before halftime.
Belichick does, too.

Part of grooming and cultivating young talent is enduring some early struggles. It’s a different sport, but I often wonder how the course of Dustin Pedroia’s Boston Red Sox career might be different had manager Terry Francona not stuck with him in 2007 when Pedroia was batting .172 with no home runs and two RBIs after a month in his first full season in the big leagues. It’s laughable to think back now and remember that some were calling for Pedroia to be sent down to Pawtucket in favor of Alex Cora.

There is a fine line here, and as Patriots captain Logan Mankins said Thursday night, “This is the NFL, you can’t be too patient for too long. You have to produce. You can’t wait forever.”

Two games in five days isn’t forever.

If the 2-0 Patriots are in the same spot two weeks from now, a quarter of the way into the season, maybe then it’ll be time to start thinking about reinforcements at wide receiver.

Previewing Patriots' top free agents

January, 21, 2013
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Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker obviously is the biggest name. But that's not the only key player the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots could lose in free agency.

Here is an early look at New England's top players who are scheduled to hit the open market this offseason:

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellAqib Talib came to the Patriots with a lot of baggage, but he was their best cornerback when healthy.
Aqib Talib, cornerback

2012 stats: 19 tackles, one interception, one touchdown

Analysis: Talib will be a very interesting case for the Patriots. He was a good midseason addition to New England's defense. The Patriots acquired Talib in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who wanted to get rid of the often-troubled corner. But Talib was a model citizen for several months in New England, and the Patriots must decide if that is enough to warrant offering him a long-term contract. On the field, Talib was easily New England's best cornerback. It was obvious when the Patriots’ pass coverage fell apart following Talib’s first-quarter injury in Sunday’s playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots need Talib or another corner of his caliber in the secondary, or it could be another long year for the pass defense.

Sebastian Vollmer, right tackle


2012 stats: 15 starts

Analysis: Vollmer is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. He is extremely steady and does an excellent job protecting the front side for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Vollmer also is tough and plays through pain. I think he’s the best right tackle in the AFC East. Vollmer has been a bargain find for the Patriots and he deservedly will look to get a sizable raise this offseason. New England must consider his injury history before committing to him with a long-term contract.

Julian Edelman, wide receiver


2012 stats: 21 receptions, 235 yards, three touchdowns

Analysis: The Patriots could have an interesting cat-and-mouse game in free agency with Edelman and Welker. These are New England’s best slot receivers, and the Patriots need to bring one back in the fold. However, the team may use one player against the other in order to get the best value in free agency. Most likely, the Patriots will re-sign Edelman because he is younger and much cheaper. Edelman split time with Welker in the slot this year and did pretty well. Edelman also is great on special teams. Welker had 112 receptions last year and made $9.5 million. His asking price could be too much for the Patriots.

Patrick Chung, safety


2012 stats: 44 tackles, two interceptions

Analysis: Chung was a disappointment this season. He continued dealing with injuries and was not consistent in pass coverage. The Patriots kept waiting for Chung to stay healthy and turn the corner, but he never developed into the playmaking safety they envisioned. In a contract year, Chung slid down the depth chart behind converted corner Devin McCourty and veteran Steve Gregory. It’s probably best for Chung and the Patriots to part ways.

Danny Woodhead, running back


2012 stats: 301 rushing yards, four touchdowns

Analysis: Woodhead is the type of player the Patriots like. He’s dependable and won’t make many mistakes. Woodhead has proved to be a valuable backup behind tailbacks Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Woodhead also will come relatively cheap. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots bring him back with a team-friendly contract.

Kyle Arrington, cornerback


2012 stats: 74 tackles

Analysis: Arrington may have played his last game as a Patriot. He has good hands, as evidenced by his seven interceptions in 2011. But Arrington struggles mightily in man-to-man coverage. Often, Arrington was a liability this season that the Patriots tried to hide. New England played a lot of zone before the Talib trade and moved Arrington to the slot after the trade. Arrington also failed to step up when Talib was injured in Sunday’s AFC title game. The Patriots need better cover corners.

Deion Branch, wide receiver


2012 stats: 16 receptions, 145 yards

Analysis: Branch is at the point of his career where he won’t be a priority for the Patriots, but he’s usually on the waiting list. I don’t expect New England to re-sign Branch early in the offseason. He may get a job somewhere else. But the Patriots would only bring him back next season if they need his leadership. Branch doesn't bring much value in terms of production at this stage in his career. New England needs to find youth and athleticism at receiver.
Players in the New England Patriots' locker room are not taking the route of Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy this week. The reigning AFC champs are showing the Houston Texans plenty of respect leading into Sunday's playoff game, despite trouncing Houston, 42-14, in Week 14.

"Trust me, you're going to see a different Texans team," Patriots veteran receiver Deion Branch explained. "That we all know, I promise you that. They're a great team. They've been a great team all season long. Unfortunately they ran into a couple stumbles but that's football. Trust me, it won't be the same team that we played five weeks ago."

New England knows it is difficult to beat the same team in both the regular season and postseason. The Patriots failed to pull that off during the 2010 season, when the New York Jets upset New England in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium after a blowout loss there in Week 13.

The Patriots cannot get overconfident against Houston and must prove they have learned from that experience .

"We expect it to be a totally different ballgame," Patriots special-teams ace Matthew Slater said. "We expect this to be a different team that shows up here this weekend and we know we’re in for a fight."

Starting fast will be important. New England took a 21-0 lead at halftime and was never in danger in Week 14. Houston must be sharper and set the tone early in this playoff rematch and let New England know it's going to be a much tougher contest.

"They didn’t play their best game," Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "They know that and we know that. Come Sunday we are expecting their best."

Patriots activate CB Aqib Talib

November, 17, 2012
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Newly acquired Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib will make his New England debut Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots announced Saturday evening that they have activated the talented but troubled cornerback.

New England worked out a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Talib in an effort to fix its struggling pass defense. The Patriots are ranked 28th against the pass, which is the team’s biggest hole.

Coming off a suspension this week, Talib apparently impressed New England’s coaching staff enough to be activated. It's unknown how big a role Talib will play on Sunday, whether as a starter or a backup.

The Patriots also signed receiver Greg Salas off the practice squad. To make room for the moves, New England released veteran receiver Deion Branch and defensive back Malcolm Williams.

Mayne Event: Decision Day 2012

November, 11, 2012
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Kenny Mayne visited New England to follow the campaign between Zoltan Mesko and Deion Branch to decide the guy who selects the locker room music for the Patriots.

Morning take: Run Tim Tebow?

September, 19, 2012
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Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC East:
  • Should the New York Jets run quarterback Tim Tebow more this week?
Morning take: Yes, this is why the Jets acquired Tebow. He was virtually shelved last weekend against Pittsburgh. Expect to see Tebow more against the Miami Dolphins.
  • Speaking of the Dolphins, Miami general manager Jeff Ireland will be graded by his draft picks.
Morning take: It's been hit-and-miss with Ireland. But the point is Miami isn't winning. Much of that now falls on the general manager who brought in the players.
Morning take: The Patriots are getting all hands on deck to make up for the loss of tight end Aaron Hernandez. Branch and tight end Kellen Winslow are two veterans who should help the offense get back on track.
  • Where do the Buffalo Bills rank in former coach Brian Billick's Power Rankings?
Morning take: Buffalo’s rank here is similar to where ESPN.com has the team. The Bills must win consistently to earn respect. They still attract plenty of naysayers.
Click here for a complete list of New England Patriots' roster moves.

Most significant move: New England cut three veterans who were important pieces the past few seasons: wide receiver Deion Branch, center Dan Koppen and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. Koppen wasn't a huge surprise. New England played the veteran lineman extensively in the fourth preseason game -- and he was part of the issue with struggles on the offensive line this summer. But Branch and Hoyer were surprises. Branch battled some injuries but is reliable and brings plenty of leadership. The Patriots spent the past several years developing Hoyer behind quarterback Tom Brady and decided this was the time to go in another direction. Granted, Hoyer struggled this preseason and second-year quarterback Ryan Mallett played a little better. But it's a little surprising that New England didn't keep him as at least the third quarterback. Hoyer's salary probably has a lot to do with it.

Onward and upward: Jeff Demps' first attempt at the NFL was a short one. The Olympic sprinter suffered an unfortunate leg injury in the fourth quarter of the final preseason game and was put on injured reserve. Demps showed flashes in his limited time this preseason. New England signed him to a three-year contract, and now Demps has to rehab to get healthy for another try. Potential is there for 2013 with New England. I also expect Branch to be on the short list with New England if a receiver gets injured during the season. Branch might know this and not accept an offer from just any team unless it's a viable contender.

What’s next: There’s not much left to do for the reigning AFC champions. This roster is stacked and, based on their cuts, it's clear the Patriots like some of their young players. Cuts like Branch, Koppen and Hoyer prove that New England has a lot of confidence in its youngsters filling key roles.

Video: Sources say Patriots cut Branch

August, 31, 2012
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The Patriots released Deion Branch on Friday, according to sources.

'Plax' to the Pats? No thanks

August, 12, 2012
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The New England Patriots really are leaving no stone unturned this year.

The latest example is the reigning AFC champ's surprising interest in free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress. The veteran receiver is working out with the Patriots on Sunday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Today happens to be Burress' 35th birthday.

Credit the Patriots for always looking for talent. But New England is fine on offense. Its passing game will be elite with or without Burress.

New England has more than enough receivers. The Patriots have a deep and talented group that includes Pro Bowler Wes Welker, deep threat Brandon Lloyd and veterans Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Donte Stallworth and Julian Edelman.

At best, Burress would be fourth or fifth on New England's depth chart. Why take on another aging receiver if you're the Patriots? This possible signing would have "Chad Ochocinco circa 2011" written all over it.

The only plus I can see for the Patriots is Burress might come cheap. Burress is still looking for work and may be willing to play on the veteran minimum. If so, New England might take flier on a potential red zone threat. But other than that, New England should pass on adding another receiver.
It's not enough to be physically talented for the New England Patriots' offense. Just ask former receiver Chad Ochocinco.

To get playing time in New England, the coaching staff must build trust and confidence that their players will always know their assignments. At its best, New England's offense is machine-like and doesn't tolerate many mistakes.

That brings us to second-year running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Physically, both 2011 draft picks are capable of being New England's starting tailback this season. But it's the nuances of the game that Ridley and Vereen must have down before the start of the regular season.

Ridley and Vereen could be dynamic together. They have young legs and bring an explosive element to New England's running game. Ridley is strong between the tackles and averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season. Vereen battled through injuries as a rookie but is one of New England's better athletes.

However, both combined for just two career starts, and New England isn't sure how they'll perform under pressure. For example, last year Ridley fumbled once in the regular-season finale and once in the playoffs against the Denver Broncos. The rookie never saw the football again in the AFC Championship Game or Super Bowl XLVI.

There is a reason the Patriots were not afraid to lean on less-gifted athletes like Troy Brown, Deion Branch, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk on offense. Despite some physical limitations, these players always knew their roles and rarely made mental mistakes.

Ridley and Vereen need to work diligently this summer to begin earning that same level of trust from the Patriots' coaching staff. Pure athleticism works for some teams, but that's certainly not the case in New England.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The throws in team drills were crisp and on the money.

There were completions with zip to receiver Wes Welker for two deep touchdowns. Tight end Aaron Hernandez made vertical catches, and several timing routes to Jabar Gaffney and Deion Branch were precise.

Brady
Still, the future Hall of Fame quarterback throwing those passes was not satisfied.

"I got a long way to go," Tom Brady said after Wednesday's practice. "So, I'm nowhere near where I want to be."

Brady is a perfectionist. He looked great in practice and made plenty of plays, especially compared to the two quarterbacks I saw up close Tuesday: Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets. Brady's arm looks strong and accurate. Brady also says he is sitting at his ideal playing weight of 228 pounds.

But Brady and the Patriots are not letting up. They want to improve. They want to be near perfect by the time the regular season begins.

Want proof? On a soggy, rainy day at Gillette Stadium, Patriots coach Bill Belichick practiced outside. The Jets had a similar dilemma on Tuesday and chose to practice inside the fieldhouse.

"Rain or shine, whatever it is," Belichick said. "Rain, wind, hot, we have a little bit of everything. So it’s been good. Sooner or later, we will have to play in those conditions."

Belichick said the players are aware that most of the evaluations will happen next month in training camp. This time is more about teaching than anything else.

Mistakes were made Wednesday, but overall I thought the Patriots looked pretty good for a June practice. Brady and the first-team offense were particularly sharp in team drills. But you can't tell that to New England's starting quarterback.

"No one is ready to play a game yet, I can assure you of that," Brady said. "We got a lot of work."
The New England Patriots will hold a mandatory three-day minicamp this week. The AFC East blog will be at Gillette Stadium to catch some of the action.

Here are three things we are keeping an eye on:

No. 1: Defensive improvements

There is only one big question I have about the reigning AFC champs: Can the defense make improvements following a horrible 2011 season? The Patriots know their 31st-ranked defense is a problem. They drafted all defensive players this year until the seventh round. Rookies such as defensive end Chandler Jones, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Tavon Wilson are expected to make immediate contributions. Will the pass rush improve? Can the Patriots get better play from their corners and safeties? New England's offense will be a juggernaut again this year. But the defense must carry its weight.

No. 2: Who takes over at running back?

The Patriots have mostly unproven players at running back. But the coaching staff was confident enough in this group to let sure-handed tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis walk in free agency. Second-year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are expected to make up for the production lost when Green-Ellis left. Ridley and Vereen have just 102 career carries between them. Free-agent pickup Joseph Addai and backup Danny Woodhead also will be in the mix. The Patriots like to have a committee of running backs at their disposal and often go with the hot hand. We will keep an eye on which tailbacks are separating from the pack early.

No. 3: Wide receivers

The Patriots have so much depth at receiver that they didn't flinch to cut six-time Pro Bowler Chad Ochocinco last week. That provides some clarity to the position, but there is still work to be done. Free-agent additions such as Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney are virtual locks, along with Pro Bowler Wes Welker. But other players such as Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Donte' Stallworth, Matthew Slater and rookie Jeremy Ebert will compete for roster spots. It will be a competitive summer for this group, and minicamp is part of that evaluation.
The New England Patriots cut six-time Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco Thursday. Along with Anthony Gonzalez, Ochocinco was the second receiver cut before training camp who had a shot to make the team.

This reshuffles a crowded field of receivers for the reigning AFC champs. Let's take a look at the updated roster at the position:

Locks: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney

Skinny: Welker and Lloyd are the two starters and guaranteed locks to make the team. Gaffney was an underrated free-agent signing who should help the Patriots. He is one of quarterback Tom Brady's favorite receivers, and that carries a lot of weight in New England.

Solid footing: Deion Branch, Matthew Slater

Skinny: Branch is a veteran who knows the system well and continues to produce. A starter in 2011, Branch is a good receiver to have around for depth and knowledge. Slater is New England's best special-teams player and a captain. Slater might not help much on offense, but he's one of the NFL's best in the third phase of the game. That's enough for him to stick.

Work to do: Julian Edelman, Donte' Stallworth, Jeremy Ebert

Skinny: The Patriots are probably going to keep six or seven receivers on their 53-man roster. The recent release of Ochocinco and Gonzalez helps relieve some of the pressure. But these are the three receivers fighting for the final one or two roster spots. The easy prediction is Edelman and Stallworth if New England keeps seven receivers; Ebert is a seventh-round pick and a long shot. If the Patriots choose only six, Edelman might have an advantage with his versatility.

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