Patriots

Alan Branch sees 22 snaps vs. Jets after being benched last week

Alan Branch sees 22 snaps vs. Jets after being benched last week

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Alan Branch had a pretty significant change in mentality Sunday from the one he took into his team's last game down in Tampa. 

"My mentality was there was an opportunity I was going to play in the game rather than watching on TV," he said. "I was ready for the game rather than not be here at all."

Branch was a healthy scratch for the Patriots win against the Bucs in Week 5. He didn't even make the trip. But he was back in uniform and on the field for Sunday's24-17 win at MetLife Stadium, playing in 22 snaps -- his second-highest snap total after the 42 he saw in Week 1 -- and was credited with one tackle for a loss in the second quarter. 

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"I was really anxious," Branch said. "I just wanted to be out there. No one plays the game not to play. It felt good to be out there. I was just waiting for my opportunity and I'm glad I got that opportunity today." 

Branch played in 12 snaps against the Panthers and in just six against the Saints in Week 2. There were times when he was handled one-on-one, and it seemed as though he found himself on the turf through four weeks more than he had for most of last season. Too often, he did not look like the player who dominated the middle of the line of scrimmage for the Patriots defense last season. 

Though he indicated his benching against the Bucs served no motivational purpose, he acknowledged that he's trying to "get back to playing good football."

"I don't need the coaches to motivate me to do that," Branch said. "I know how good I can play. If I'm not doing it, I always try to get better. Even today I think I could have done a lot better."

Without the benefit of film review, it's hard to know how well Branch executed in his nearly two-dozen snaps. The Patriots played sound run defense against a Jets running game that came into the game as one of the league's top-15 units. They allowed just 3.1 yards per rush and 74 total rushing yards. 

Part of that could have been that the Jets were without Bilal Powell, their top back. But part of it was that played like Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and Branch (at times) won their matchups in the trenches.

"I usually wait to watch the film to say how good we did or not," Branch said. "I don't know what the stats were. It felt better, but if we were out of gaps in certain plays . . . Lucky is sometimes better than good, but I'd rather be good than lucky."

The Patriots entered the game as a bottom-third run defense, allowing five yards per carry. Sunday marked a step in the right direction for them in that regard, and Branch believes that the team will improve with time. 

"We want a flat wall on the front," he said. "Sometimes there's dips. Sometimes we have issues on the edge. Sometimes in the middle we don't get the knock-back that we need. Pretty much all across the board we need to get better every game until the time when the real season starts, you know?"

After being told to stay home last week, it's advice his team surely hopes he's heeding himself.

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Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

If Rob Gronkowski is serious about leaving football to become a wrestler, it probably won't be for the kind of money the Patriots are paying him, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer tells WEEI.

“I think that is more of a Gronkowski is going to make the call himself and I don’t think it is WWE is trying to — they are not going to outbid him," Meltzer told WEEI "Dale and Holley with Keefe" show on Thursday. "They are not going to spend $10 million a year on him. But, if he’s done with football, are they interested in him? Yeah, it is pretty clear they are."

Meltzer reported last week that World Wrestling Entertainment was interested in signing Gronk to a "similar style" deal to that of Ronda Rousey, who left UFC to join WWE for a reported $5 million a year. Gronkowski is scheduled to make $8.6 million from the Patriots in 2018. 

Meltzer cited NFL-turned-wrestling examples of James Laurinaitis, Kevin Greene and Brock Lesnar as the footsteps Gronk could follow. 

"Now, can you do it on a Brock Lesnar schedule of 10 matches a year? Yeah, probably. Lesnar was a unique type of character. He made probably $5 million-plus a year in wrestling the last couple of years.

Gronkowski is also said to be contemplating a career as an action movie star. 

Here's more on Gronk from NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran. 

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Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are completely set . . . we think: interior offensive line. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED: It wasn't always pretty, particularly at the outset of the season when Tom Brady was being hit at a rate that rivaled years when he was most battered. And the way the season ended for this group -- with Shaq Mason allowing a sack to Philly's Brandon Graham that helped end the Super Bowl -- was obviously less than ideal. But that shouldn't overshadow how this group performed, particularly in the second half. Mason was a borderline Pro Bowl talent (Pro Football Focus' fourth-best grade at right tackle for 2017), pairing his devastating run-blocking with a vastly-improved ability to protect. David Andrews continued to play solidly and effectively make calls from his place as the line's pivot, getting through the season as PFF's No. 4-graded center. And while Joe Thuney had occasional issues with power rushers, he graded out as PFF's seventh-best left guard. Three top-10 players at their respective spots? And a reliable all-around backup in Ted Karras (three total pressures and one bad snap in two starts at center)? Plenty of teams around the league would love to be as solid up front. 

 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018: Thuney, Mason, Andrews, Karras, James Ferentz, Jason King

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED: Not dire. At all, really. It's a 1 out of 10. They have three young, relatively healthy, improving players who will come back in 2018 and should slot in as immediate starters. The No. 1 backup at all three interior spots, Karras, is back as well. Ferentz is veteran depth piece who spent last season on the team's practice squad and was given a future contract by the team soon after the Super Bowl. Jason King (and Cole Croston who can play both guard and tackle) will also be back with the team when offseason training begins. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY: The best guard on the market was one of the best guards in the league in 2017: Carolina's Andrew Norwell. Other veterans who will garner interest on the market? Colts 2014 second-round pick Jack Mewhort and former Patriots starter Josh Kline. Jonathan Cooper, briefly a Patriot, will also be back on the market this offseason. Will the Patriots be interested in any of them? My guess is no, unless the team is put in an impossible situation at left tackle and they want to try Thuney on the outside, freeing up their left guard spot . . . but that's a pretty far-fetched scenario at this point. Even though Thuney played tackle in college, the Patriots drafted him to play on the inside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT: Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson will be fascinating to track on draft day. The 330-pound guard is considered by some to be one of the two or three best football players in the draft. He's touted by experts as a surefire longtime starter with All-Pro potential. But he's a guard. Are teams going to be willing to spend a top-10 or top-15 pick on a position that is ably filled by late-round picks and undrafted players all over the league? Nelson's an interesting case study in that regard. It's a pretty strong draft class at the top, it seems. Georgia's Isaiah Wynn and Texas-El Paso's Will Hernandez have received first-round buzz, as have a few centers: Iowa's James Daniels, Arkansas' Frank Ragnow and Ohio State's Billy Price. Then there are the tackles-who-may-be-guards-at-the-next-level. Texas' Connor Williams, who we mentioned in our tackle assessment, is the biggest name who could end up getting kicked inside. 

HOW THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT: There really isn't much to address, in my opinion. However, there's a little wrinkle here that's worth keeping in mind. The Patriots were reportedly interested in drafting Indiana's center/guard prospect Dan Feeney in the third round last year. They had the 72nd pick. He ended up going to the Chargers at No. 71. The Patriots traded down for a pair of picks when Feeney was gone. One was used to get defensive end Derek Rivers. The other helped them snag tackle Tony Garcia. Why the interest in Feeney? His size (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) and athletic profile (7.52-second three-cone, 101-inch broad jump) actually compared somewhat favorably to those of Logan Mankins (6-4, 307, 7.52-second three-cone, 95-inch broad jump). The idea of having him at center, between Thuney and Mason, could've been enticing. So will the Patriots jump at the chance to add a similarly-gifted player to play in the middle if the opportunity presents itself? Never say never, but I don't think so. Andrews received an extension after the draft, keeping him in New England through 2020, and he was named a captain before the 2017 season.

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