- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some quick-hit thoughts on some of the Patriots' personnel moves Friday:
1. Branch a surprise. Bill Belichick is always good for a surprise or two, and receiver Deion Branch's release qualifies from that perspective. It seemed like he had outperformed the competition for the No. 3 receiving spot. Coupled with his knowledge of the system and rapport with Tom Brady, Branch appeared to have real value to the team. The Patriots have Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker atop the depth chart, and then a question mark, although tight end Aaron Hernandez is receiver-like in many ways. Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater will be part of the mix, but there seems to be a spot open for someone else here, and it will be interesting to see how that unfolds (perhaps Branch could return after Week 1). After all the talk about an overstocked receiver spot with Branch, Jabar Gaffney, Donte' Stallworth, Chad Johnson and Anthony Gonzalez earlier this offseason, it turns out none of those receivers made the team. Surprising.
2. Hoyer and the No. 2 QB. It's not a shocker that the Patriots informed quarterback Brian Hoyer of his release, but more of a mild surprise because it only leaves two quarterbacks on the depth chart -- Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett. When the Patriots selected Mallett in the third round of the 2011 draft, Belichick talked about how adding a third layer to the depth chart was nice security. The team doesn't have that layer of security at this time, although one would think they'll attempt to add a young quarterback to the practice squad, if the right candidate emerges. Hoyer's $1.9 million salary had him at less than a lock for a roster spot, but his knowledge of the offense, coupled with the premium position he played, made it seem more than likely he'd have a place as a backup for the fourth year in a row. Instead, the Patriots apparently saw enough of Mallett to think he could help them in the event of emergency as the No. 2 option and probably felt $1.9 million was too rich for a No. 3 option in Hoyer. Economics can't be overlooked here.
3. Signs were there with Koppen. Reports and tweets indicate that the Patriots are moving on from veteran center Dan Koppen, either with a release or possible trade. No surprise here. It's seldom a good sign when a player is on the field in the fourth quarter of the fourth preseason game, where Koppen found himself. That was the springboard to this ESPNBoston.com column after the final preseason game. Four-year veteran Ryan Wendell apparently outperformed Koppen in the eyes of the coaching/personnel staff. Great run for Koppen. Easy to forget now that he was a fifth-round pick back in 2003. He beat the odds.
4. Ihedigbo affected by rookie emergence. Safety James Ihedigbo's release seems to be a direct result of the emergence of rookie safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner. Both project to top backup roles behind Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung, so Ihedigbo would have been a fifth option. While Ihedigbo added value as a special-teams guy, he's not a top performer in that area, so he probably wouldn't have projected to the 46-man game-day roster. This could also be a sign that Chung's shoulder injury isn't too serious; if it was, perhaps Ihedigbo would have stuck around.