Branch returns, wants to retire a Patriot

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Branch returns, wants to retire a Patriot

FOXBORO -- Everything happens for a reason.
For Deion Branch, the reason he's still in New England is because he wants to be here.
That would explain why his personal space inside the Patriots locker room at Gillette Stadium has remained untouched each time he's been cut this season.
Branch re-signed with New England earlier this week, after Donte' Stallworth joined Julian Edelman on injured reserve. It marks the second time that Branch signed with the team this season, after being released in August, then again in mid-November.
He last played in Week 10, on Nov. 11, against the Buffalo Bills, and had four catches for 30 yards. it was the fifth straight game he had played while dealing with a hamstring injury. It's an injury that he took time to rehab over the last four weeks that he's been away from the team.
But his "return" to the Patriots this week wasn't necessarily earth-shattering news.
Branch stood in front of his locker after Thursday's practice, and it felt like Groundhog Day. Everyone had seen this scene before.
"All my guys just walked past my locker like nothing ever happened," said Branch with a smile on face. "So I didn't get any hugs or anything like that. Just another day, man."
It's as if the veteran receiver never left, either time he was released. Branch refused to come out and discuss details of his conversations with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, but it was clear that he would be returning at some point -- both times he was cut -- based on the simple fact that his personal belongings -- clothes, equipment, framed pictures -- all remained in his locker, which continued to don the nameplate, "Deion Branch 84" above it.
"It's part of the business," said Branch. "You understand certain things and this is what happens. But at the same time, you know what your goals are. I know it's important, the team knows it's important. We sit down every time with things like this, whether it's me or someone else. Coach Belichick and this organization is straightforward. He lets you know what's what."
But this type of "business" is tough to come by in a professional sports world that's surrounded by large contracts, personal desires, and cold-blooded roster moves.
Branch is an established NFL veteran. He doesn't have to put up with this.
Still, he does. He wants to. Everything happens for a reason, he says.
His reason is that he has everything he ever could want in New England. He stays because he wants to be here. And he's willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
"This is where I want to be," said Branch. "Someone else might be different. I can only speak for myself. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to retire. So that kind of makes things a lot easier.
"I'm stepping in as if I never left. I'm here to just do whatever they need me to do, whatever Tom Brady needs me to do on the offense, whatever my team needs me to do. That's my job, and that's what I'm going to do.
"I'm a very blessed individual," added Branch. "I'm very thankful."

Chara ‘feels better’ as he closes in on return, but won’t play in Buffalo

Chara ‘feels better’ as he closes in on return, but won’t play in Buffalo

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Zdeno Chara said he is “feeling better” after going through a full practice with the Bruins, but the captain won’t be making the one game road trip to Buffalo for Saturday afternoon’s matinee game vs. the Sabres. 

Chara was going through line rushes and battle drills with the rest of his teammates while practicing for the second day in a row, but made it clear that his lower body injury hasn’t been cleared for game action yet. 

“It’s day-to-day. It feels better…yeah. But it’s still day-to-day,” said a rather laconic Chara when it came to questions about his injury. “It would feel much better [to play] than it feels [not playing].”

Claude Julien said his 39-year-old defenseman has moved into true “day-to-day” status as he nears a return after missing what will be his sixth game in a row on Saturday afternoon, but that he isn’t quite ready to go just yet.

“[Chara] and [Noel] Acciari won’t be on the trip,” said Julien. “I think [Chara] is getting pretty close. When you see him at practice things are going pretty well for him. I think that the term day-to-day is fitting for him right now. A lot of times when we say day-to-day we don’t know whether it’s going to be two days, three days or even a week. But in his case I would say that day-to-day is really day-to-day now with him.” 

One thing the Bruins can be heartened by is that they’ve managed to survive without Chara: the B’s have gone 2-2-1 and allowed just nine goals in the five games since their No. 1 defenseman went down. They have been able to continue collecting points in sometimes ugly, workmanlike fashion. 

That gives the Bruins the luxury of not rushing their D-man along before he’s ready and gives some of their other defensemen added confidence that they can effectively do the job with or without their 6-foot-9 stopper. 

Slater missing from start of Patriots practice

Slater missing from start of Patriots practice

FOXBORO -- The Patriots were without two key members of their special teams units at Friday's practice. 

Both Matthew Slater (foot) and Jordan Richards (knee) were not spotted at the start of the team's most recent workout. Defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton (illness) was also missing. 

Hamilton and Richards did not participate in Thursday's practice. Slater was present on Wednesday and Thursday after missing Sunday's game against the Jets. 

The Patriots did have a Gronkowski back on the field Friday, but it wasn't Rob, who was expected to undergo back surgery in Los Angeles. It was fullback Glenn Gronkowski, who has apparently been re-signed to the Patriots practice squad for his fourth go-round on New England's 10-man unit. Practice-squad tight end Kennard Backman, who has not been at Patriots practice since Wednesday, has likely been released in order to make room for Gronkowski.