Alan Branch

Patriots' Branch frustrated with lack of playing time

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Patriots' Branch frustrated with lack of playing time

FOXBORO -- If you're believer that the tape doesn't lie, then my goodness, Alan Branch is not half the player he used to be.

The anchor of the Patriots defense a year ago -- and maybe the last two, considering how well he peformed -- Branch has become a bit player for a defense that desperately needs the 6-foot-6, 350-pound freak of nature to get back to his old form. But since a rugged opener versus Kansas City, Branch has seen his snaps go from a season-high 42 to a mere 6 in New Orleans, up to 21 against the Texans and back down to a dozen in Sunday's loss to the Panthers.

"Everybody wants to play," Branch told me Tuesday. "It's upsetting. At the same time, it's not my pay grade to make those decisions."

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No, that decision is made by Bill Belichick and his defensive staff. In their defense, Branch hasn't made a compelling case to get more reps, making the decision to re-sign him at the age of 32 and give him a decent chunk of change -- $3 million in guarantees -- questionable. Yes, there is time to get right, but what we're seeing now hardly provides even a glimmer of hope that it's coming, though Branch, when asked, believes that player, the one we saw in previous season, is still there.

"I feel like it," he said. "But like I said, I can't do that on the sidelines."

Branch acknowledged that he's working on his craft, trying to prove it to those that matter he can still be counted on. 

"I just want to be able to go out there and make a difference in the game," he noted. "Anybody that plays the game wants to be in the game. I'm just trying to do my best trying to get better in each practice, get right in the weight room and everything."

If he does that, Branch believes the onus is off of him and onto the coaching staff.

"If I do that, then [playing time] is really . . . that's up to the coaches. I play when I'm called."

But maybe another offseason away from the facilities -- as has been his modus operandi since signing here -- is catching up to a player who has always been, shall we say, oversized. Combine his weight with a decade in the league and perhaps -- perhaps -- we've seen the best of Branch. Or maybe, at this juncture, he's still catching up with conditioning and adjusting to a new role.

Branch admitted to me that not playing as much has hindered his ability to find a rhythm. 

"It definitely is, but if that's my role, I gotta be able to get used to going in there, spelling guys, putting good plays out there to help the defense get the offense off the field," he's said. "It's definitely tough because you're not in the swing of things because you're not on the field all the time, but at the same time, if that's what your numbers called for, that's what you have to try to do."

Bottom line is the Patriots need more from Branch, who is unlike any player they have on the defensive line. If he can't get right, that's just another spot the Pats will have to coach around in an attempt to find the productive defense we all believed they would have when the season started, and not the one that's been gashed for over 1,800 yards and has given up 30 or more points in three of the first four games of this year.

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Branch on reduced role vs. Saints: 'Ask Bill'

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Branch on reduced role vs. Saints: 'Ask Bill'

FOXBORO - If Alan Branch is worried about his spot with the Patriots, he isn’t acting that way. A notorious slow starter, Branch played just six snaps in Sunday’s win at New Orleans. And to hear him talk, it’s business as usual.

“It’s not like you can practice 3 technique on a store clerk,” said Branch late Wednesday afternoon. When informed that he probably could if he wanted, Branch smiled and noted “you’d probably get arrested for that.”

All kidding aside, it was stark to see Branch’s ample behind stapled to the bench. He earned a two-year contract this offseason, and his presence on the interior has been critical to the defense’s success. But after getting pushed around a bit too often in that opening night loss to the Chiefs, Branch spent a lot more time watching then playing. Did he know that he wasn’t a big part of the plan?

“That’s another question you gotta ask Bill, man” said Branch. “That’s not something I can talk about.”

Branch has - at times - come off as nonchalant about the game. Wins, losses, big plays, no plays, none of it seems to change his demeanor. Knowing that, I asked him if he was frustrated by his lack of playing time.

“I mean every player wants to be on the field so it is what it is,” he responded. 

Does he think that he’ll be more involved Sunday against the Texans?

“I don’t know what they plan to do with me,” he said. “i just need to go in there and keep my head to the grindstone and work.”

That may be Bill Belichick’s plan: sitting the player to motivate him. It would also seem to be potentially the last resort, and with someone who clearly marches to the beat of his own drum, it’s unclear how he’ll respond.

Postcard from camp: Branch off PUP, back in action

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Postcard from camp: Branch off PUP, back in action

FOXBORO - The Patriots were back on the Gillette Stadium practice fields for their final workout before heading to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, for joint practices with the Texans.

Players were in shorts and shells. Here's what we saw...

ATTENDANCE
*Alan Branch was back in uniform, indicating he was activated off of the physically unable to perform list. Dont'a Hightower remains the lone Patriots player on PUP.

*Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell both returned to 11-on-11 work and seemed to be full participants. It will bear watching whether either player will be fully involved when full pads are reintroduced.

*Cody Hollister (in a red non-contact jersey) returned to practice. Damarius Travis (also in red) was present for the session as well. Another undrafted rookie, David Jones, was back on the field for the first time since early in camp. James O'Shaughnessy was also back on the field for the first time in several practices.

*Matthew Slater, Brandon King, Tony Garcia and Matt Lengel were not spotted. At today's session.

*Hightower, Nate Solder, Mike Gillislee, Shea McClellin, Andrew Jelks (NFI), Deatrich Wise and Keionta Davis made their way to the lower fields soon after the workout began.

LAPS
*Trey Flowers and Malcom Brown were sent for laps early in the session when it appeared as though they didn't play a misdirection fake correctly.

QUARTERBACK NUMBERS
*Tom Brady was 17-for-24 in team drills. After starting practice hot, he was unable to complete each of his last five throws in what appeared to be end-of-game situations.

*Jimmy Garoppolo went 7-for-14 in the practice. He should have had at least one more completion but Rob Gronkowski dropped one of his passes in the end zone.

*Jacoby Brissett went 1-for-2 in the session. His incompletion was dropped by Sam Cotton.

11-on-11
* Brady complete to Hogan
* Brady complete to Allen
* Edelman run
* Brady complete to White
* Brady complete to Cooks
* Brady complete to Edelman

* Garoppolo incomplete for Cooks
* Garoppolo complete to Bolden
* Garoppolo complete to O'Shaughnessy
* Garoppolo incomplete
* Garoppolo complete to O'Shaughnessy

* Burkhead run
* Burkhead run
* Lewis run
* White run
* Bolden run
* Bolden run

* Lewis run
* Lewis run

* Brady complete to Hogan
* Brady complete to Edelman

* Lewis run
* Garoppolo incomplete for Hollister. Bad collision. 

* Foster run
* Brissett complete Amendola 
* Daniels run
* Brissett incomplete for Cotton. Ball dropped. 


* Brady complete to Cooks
* White run
* Brady incomplete for Cooks. Gilmore PBU.
* White run. 
* Brady complete to Mitchell. 


* Burkhead run. 
* Burkhead run. 
* Garoppolo complete to Amendola. 
* Burkhead run. 

* Brady complete to Gronkowski.  
* Lewis run. 
* Brady complete to Edelman. 
* Lewis run. 

* Brady complete to Cooks. 
* Brady complete to Gronkowski. 


* Garoppolo complete to Cotton. 
* Bolden run. 
* Bolden run. 

* Garoppolo incomplete to Cotton. 
* Garoppolo complete to Carr. 
* Garoppolo complete to White. 


* Brady incomplete for Allen. 
* Brady complete to Gronkowski. 
* Brady complete to Gronkowski. 
* Brady complete to Edelman. 
* Brady complete to Hogan. 
* Brady incomplete to Allen. 
* Brady incomplete to Allen. 
* Brady incomplete to Edelman. 

* Garoppolo incomplete for Gronkowski. Harmon PBU. 
* Garoppolo incomplete to Gronkowski. Gronkowski drop. 
* Garoppolo incomplete for Mitchell. 

* Brady incomplete. 
* Brady incomplete for Amendola. J. Jones PBU. 
* White run.