Branch will jump in with both feet mentoring
FOXBOROUGH - It is new and yet old, training camp with the Patriots. It is a return, in a way, for Deion Branch, not just from the lockout, not just from the longer-than-usual offseason. He was, after all, with Seattle at this time last year.
Branch was excited yesterday, repeating the word multiple times. Excited to be back on the field, to be getting a full - or as close as he can get - training camp with the Patriots. Excited to be getting ready for the season. Though there’s still a lot to learn. As Branch said, “There’s a couple things I’m looking at now in the playbook like, man, stuff that we didn’t go over because I came in during the season. I get the opportunity to do that now.’’
It was last October when Branch was reacquired as a replacement for Randy Moss, returning to the franchise with which he began his career in 2002.
“I’m going into my 10th season and even when we came in today, doing little agility drills and stuff like that, I was excited, competing with those young guys, having fun,’’ Branch said. “You can see the joy and the laughter that goes around once we’re back doing what we love doing.’’
And with a receiving corps composed of mostly of younger, unproven players, Branch’s presence from the start of the season takes on added importance, especially with the younger players at a disadvantage because of the lockout. Branch, Wes Welker, and the newly acquired Chad Ochocinco are the reliable veteran receivers, with the Patriots looking for a jumps in performance from Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, and Julian Edelman. Otherwise, the Patriots remain vulnerable if a defense can shut down their top trio.
That means they have to learn. They have to improve. And Branch will be there to help them along, the young players whom he expressed enthusiasm for, whom he called willing to learn. Plus, as he said, “I think the biggest thing is being led by Tom [Brady]. That’s the most important thing.’’
But it’s not everything.
“They missed a lot,’’ said Branch, who had 48 catches for 706 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games for the Patriots in 2010. “The biggest thing is that we’re all on the same page so nobody has an advantage over the next team. Everything is all based about how guys come in and prepare. You’ve got to put a lot more work into it once they leave the building. It’s just not about consuming everything in the meeting rooms now. The guys get back to the hotel, they’ve got to focus on getting the playbook.’’
And while he’s looking forward to seeing them grow, Branch also knows that a lot of the responsibility will be on his shoulders. He made sure to get together with Brady during the lockout, to get others together, to do his best to put himself and his receivers in the right position.
Not that he was willing to discuss those sessions.
“We did a couple things,’’ Branch said. “I don’t want to speak out and say everything we did. We did a great job of getting together, all the guys, trying to get a little work in.
“It’s important, but it’s still not team structure. I think the thing is we’re going to win games or lose games as a team. I think the individual things that we did amongst each other, that’s a plus, that will help us. But as far as winning and losing, that’s going to be a team thing.’’
They’ll get the chance to work on that now that the lockout has ended and training camp has begun. They’ll have time to study the playbook and prepare and mold themselves into a team. Branch will have that time, too. He’ll have time to learn and work with his teammates, not being thrown into the mix during midseason.
And there’s no question, Branch is excited. It showed in his answers, even when being asked about a potential defensive back combination down the road in New York, with talk about how good the Jets could be with Nnamdi Asomugha added to Darrelle Revis. It showed that even though Branch is starting his 10th year, even with his contract running out at the end of this season, he’s as ready as anyone for the season to start.
“I love the competition,’’ Branch said. “I enjoy the game, I love the competition. I love to compete each and every day. Once I lose that, then I’ll stop playing.’’