Branch is receptive to the role of teacher
FOXBOROUGH - Deion Branch can look around the Patriots locker room to find his motivation. The 10 other receivers on the roster remind him that while he likes to teach what he has learned in his 10 years in the NFL, he is still competing.
“I’m always thinking that,’’ Branch said. “I never let my guard down. We have a bunch of young guys and these guys are playing great. I just have to do everything I can to possibly help the team and do my job. Whatever Tom [Brady] asks me to do, I’ll do it.’’
This preseason is a refresher for Branch, who reunited with the Patriots via a trade with the Seattle Seahawks last year, five weeks into the season. The Patriots selected Branch in the second round of the 2002 draft and after four seasons traded him to Seattle.
When Branch came back to the Patriots, there were some things he remembered about the offense. But this preseason has been invaluable for the veteran as he tries to carve out a spot for himself.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to pick up some of things I missed in the last training camp,’’ Branch said. “Trust me, we went over so much stuff the last two or three weeks that I truly missed because I didn’t have training camp last year, so it’s always important.’’
As the Patriots prepare for their third preseason game tomorrow against the Detroit Lions, Branch shares Brady’s sense of urgency to establish consistency.
“I think there still needs to be much more consistency from everybody,’’ Brady said. “Especially me, I have to be more consistent out there.
“But you can feel like you’re getting into more of a rhythm of the football season now, after being off for a significant period of time without any real activities for us to judge where we were at.’’
Although practices are critical, Branch said, preseason games can be just as important for veterans to get their timing.
“They’re very important,’’ he said. “The most important thing is we get it good in practice, but it’s just practice. Next is game tempo and what are we doing in the game and how it looks on film when we are going ones vs. ones.’’
Between preparation for preseason games, Branch is often exchanging ideas and tips with the younger receivers, including Taylor Price, who is in his second year. Last year, Branch worked with receiver Brandon Tate, and the help isn’t one-sided.
“We are kind of constantly talking, and I’m picking their brains, too, for little small things about what they’re seeing while they’re practicing and going against the younger guys,’’ Branch said. “It goes hand in hand.’’
When Branch thinks back to his second season after being drafted, he remembers wanting to prove himself. He said it is an idea that he hopes sticks with younger players and one that remains relevant for him so many years later.
“I wanted to make sure I went out and continued to prove myself and show coach [Bill] Belichick why he drafted me,’’ Branch said. “I’m here to play. I’m here to win. That was the most important thing. That’s what I hope they’re thinking.’’
Branch believes he can still help the Patriots, no matter how abbreviated his role. It is an opportunity he accepted the moment he returned to New England. Days before the Patriots made the move to pick up Branch, they traded Randy Moss to Minnesota.
When Branch showed up at Gillette Stadium, he declared that he wasn’t there to replace Moss. But he believed he could contribute and lend a hand to the younger receivers.
Last season, Branch collected 706 yards via 48 receptions in 11 games. He added five touchdowns, his most since he was with the Patriots in 2005.
“My role has changed a whole lot,’’ Branch said. “I see myself doing a little more vocally with the younger guys.
“I used to be vocal because I was questioning Tom and David Patten back in the days, and now I’m inserted into their role. I have to talk to them, but I also have to show them, and that’s my goal - to just go out and show these guys whatever I can.
“Hopefully, they pick it up and they’ll put their talents to work and take whatever I can give them or show them. That’ll be good.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.