Bill Belichick gave unreserved praise to Deion Branch and Adam Vinatieri Tuesday during a conference call with the Indianapolis media.
Speaking of Branch, who signed with the Colts on Monday to provide some veteran depth, Belichick said, “Deion had a great career here. I think he was here for seven years or north thereof. Very smart, professional player. Great leader. One of the top guys we’ve had here in terms of off the field work ethic, leadership, intelligence, preparation, all those things. He had some very productive seasons here. He’s a tremendous person. He’s had a great career.”
As for Vinatieri, Belichick lobbied for his Hall of Fame candidacy.
“I have the utmost respect for Adam and the way he approaches his job, the way he does his job,” said Belichick. “It really seems like every year, you turn on the film and he’s making 50-yard field goals and kicking them right down the middle and doing the same things that he did 17, 18 years ago, however long it’s been since ’96. He’s a great player and a Hall of Fame kicker if there ever was one.”
Seems hard to believe but Vinatieri has been gone for eight seasons. He left after the 2005 season when the Patriots decided not to franchise him for a second consecutive year and the two sides couldn’t work out a long-term deal.
When the Colts anted up with a five-year deal that had $3.5 million in bonus money and more than $2.5 million per year, Vinatieri -- who felt he’d been strung along by the Patriots for too long -- bolted.
New England drafted Stephen Gostkowski the next month and he’s been outstanding.
Vinatieri was arguably the MVP of the Colts’ lone Super Bowl run with Peyton Manning, kicking five field goals against Baltimore when Manning was struggling mightily.
“Adam, when he was here, trained very hard in the offseason, was one of our hardest workers,” said Belichick. “He worked out with all the other position players and he was never really looked at as a kicker in terms of his offseason program and what he did as far as training, that kind of thing. He was a very well-conditioned athlete. Mentally, he’s as tough and as consistent as they come. I can’t think of anybody, certainly no other kicker, that I’ve coached that I would put ahead of him in terms of mental toughness, concentration, focus, professionalism, all of those things. He just did his job as well as he could possibly do it every day that I was here. I was here in ’96 when he came in as a rookie and then as the head coach when I came back.”