Branch feeling homed in
After detour to Seattle, he is well-received in return to the Patriots
FOXBOROUGH — There have been a few changes in Foxborough since the last time Deion Branch wore a Patriots uniform.
There is a movie theater and an outdoor mall next to Gillette Stadium. Another player is wearing No. 83. And there isn’t a single receiver who was around during Branch’s years from 2002-05.
But what has stayed the same is enough to excite Branch about his return. Branch left New England via trade in 2006 when he couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract. Since then, Branch had been in Seattle, optimistic that he could establish a more significant role in the Seahawks’ offense, but knee injuries and personnel decisions slowed his progress.
On Monday, the Patriots sent a fourth-round pick to Seattle to bring Branch back to New England, where he was a primary target for Tom Brady and the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX. Branch, 31, may have left the Patriots for a bigger contract in 2006 but he returns understanding that he may have a different role this time around.
With Randy Moss traded to the Vikings last week, Branch becomes the veteran among the receivers, but he is not planning to take Moss’s place.
“That’s the first thing I wanted to let you all know: I’m not here to replace Randy,’’ Branch said yesterday. “I’m not Randy Moss. I wasn’t Randy Moss when I was here.
“My job is to go out and do what the offense asks of me to do, and that’s what I’m going to do.’’
Though Branch left after a disagreement over his contract, he said his relationship with the organization remained amicable.
“No regrets,’’ Branch said. “I wish it never happened, but no regrets. When I left, there wasn’t any issues between me and coach [Bill] Belichick. None at all.
“We talked during the course of the year. Not a lot, but I spoke to him, and I truly thanked him, but we didn’t leave on a bad note. And I think that’s why it was so easy to return, because we both understood what was going on.’’
Branch felt so good about his relationship with the Patriots that he thought there was a chance last season he would be back. There was uncertainty in Seattle and the Patriots were looking for another receiver after Joey Galloway was released early in the season. But the season came and went without Branch getting a call.
When Moss was traded, Branch said, he didn’t know whether he was in the Patriots’ plans. At 31, he is a different player than he was a few years ago, but that could be a positive.
“I understand the game of football,’’ Branch said. “I truly understand the game and how to study people, how to study guys, my opponent.
“I think my first four years here I was just playing off all athleticism, and I was getting away with it for a little bit. I think now I know how to sit down and break down the film and watch my opponent.’’
There are some familiar faces from Branch’s time. Even though running back Kevin Faulk is on injured reserve, he was around yesterday and greeted Branch.
“Still seeing guys like Kevin Faulk put a smile on my face,’’ Branch said. “Matt Light, Dan Koppen, and always Tom. Seeing veteran guys like big [Gerard] Warren, Fred Taylor. These guys want to win. And I’m just very thankful to be here.’’
Those same players were happy to see Branch.
“I’m excited,’’ Koppen said. “Deion’s a good player. A good guy to have in the locker room.’’
During the offseason, wide receiver Julian Edelman said he broke down film to study the chemistry between Brady and Branch. And he hopes he can pick up more from Branch in the future.
“He’s been here when they won Super Bowls and I’m going to be able to get to learn from another guy, another veteran,’’ Edelman said. “Happy to have him.’’
Branch walked out to practice with Brady yesterday, getting a few last-minute tips about the offense. Some of the plays were familiar, but Branch has quite a bit of catching up to do. It remains to be seen whether Belichick will make Branch active for Sunday’s game against the Ravens, but Branch said he is doing all he can to be ready.
Branch did not have the standout seasons in Seattle he did with the Patriots — he had 13 catches for 112 yards this year — but he didn’t blame his struggles on injuries.
“A lot of things happened,’’ Branch said. “I don’t think it had anything to do with injuries. Who knows? It could be personnel decisions.
“Just part of the business. That’s the way things spin. I think both sides agreed to a decision that was made. I’m very thankful, like I said, to be part of the organization in the past, and they’re going to do great things. I think Mr. [John] Schneider and Coach [Pete] Carroll, they’re shaping that team up to go in the right direction.’’
Now Branch is turning his attention to the Patriots. In many ways, he said, he feels like he is back home with the team that drafted him in 2002 out of Louisville.
“I do have that feeling,’’ Branch said. “It’ll really set in probably game day. Just to be back here, especially with [Brady], and this team, under the same coach that brought me in. This staff is pretty much still the same except for a couple guys here and there. I do feel like I’m back at home.’’