Branch release ties in to tight ends

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Branch release ties in to tight ends

FOXBORO - Bill Belichick has said that official titles don't matter. Usually, he's referring to members of his coaching staff. He might as well be referring to his players too. The release of Deion Branch on Friday leaves the Patriots with just two single-purpose veteran wideouts on the roster: Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. The other veteran players who carry a WR next to their names are also special teams staples (Julian Edelman and Matt Slater). The tenor of feedback I've received Friday afternoon on this news has been, "Two wide receivers on the roster?! HERESY! They need more guys! Who are they bringing back? Is this a temporary thing?"
Hold on. What does one call Aaron Hernandez?He's certainly closer to a wideout than a tight end. So that brings the count to three wideouts. And Rob Gronkowski? Classic tight end shape, but he'slined up wide and in the slot as well. Three-and-a-half?Meanwhile, tight ends like Daniel Fells and the phantom, Visanthe Shiancoe, have been signed to take up Hernandez' slack (don't forget, Hernandez and Gronkowski were the only tight ends to do anything at all last season). Better to maybe call these guys "perimeter targets"and forget what convention demands they be described as. Which brings us to Branch. Brilliant player. Certainly capable of catching 40 to 50 balls this year. But his time is running short and the team's offensive emphasis has moved away from players like him. There are better targets out there. Might they bring Branch back? Or Jabar Gaffney? Maybe. But for now, this is what they'll run with at the top of the perimeter target list. Sometimes, the Patriots make out-of-the-blue moves and, after a second's reflection, you see where they were coming from. Branch fits that bill. Two other big releases made simple sense as well, Dan Koppen and James Ihedigbo.
Koppen's release was expected. He's having trouble getting to the second level of the defense, he's 32 and he's coming off an injury that stole his 2011 season. Plus, he only plays center and all the other guys who play center can also fill in at guard. Koppen is probably just about done. He was a free agent this offseason and only got a nibble from the Titans who ultimately passed.. As for Ihedigbo, the emergence of Nate Ebner as a Big Nickel safety who can go and play at the linebacker level and also cover kicks rendered the hard-working Ihedigbo moot.

Floyd looks to improve rapport with Brady: 'Tom likes things a certain way'

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Floyd looks to improve rapport with Brady: 'Tom likes things a certain way'

FOXBORO -- Michael Floyd has been with the Patriots for about a month, and he admits he still has a lot to learn.

Specifically when it comes to his rapport with Tom Brady, Floyd knows there's room for improvement. Against the Texans last weekend, he was targeted three times. One led to a pick. Another was almost picked. One was caught for nine yards. 

On the intercepted pass and the near-interception, Floyd ran slant routes from the left side of the Patriots formation, but he appeared to run them in ways that Brady didn't anticipate. Instead of coming back toward the ball as it approached, Floyd leaked up the field, perhaps hoping to turn what would be an intermediate gain into a bigger play. 

On WEEI earlier this week, Brady took the blame for the pick. But Floyd shouldered his share of responsibility for the turnover on Wednesday.

"You just gotta come downhill," he said. "Obviously at this time of the year, a lot of guys are really checked in on film work and how you play and splits and stuff like that. You gotta make sure you're really fundamentally sound and come downhill to every single ball."

It's one of many lessons Floyd has tried to absorb since being claimed off of waivers by the Patriots in mid-December.

In the regular-season finale against the Dolphins, he looked to be learning at an impressive rate as he caught three passes for 36 yards and laid a monster block that helped spring Julian Edelman for the longest touchdown reception of his career. 

As he prepared for the AFC title game, though, he acknowedleged that he has a way to go -- particularly when it comes to understanding the nuances of how his ever-demanding quarterback wants things done.

"I've only been here a month so I think that's every single day," Floyd said of getting to know Brady's preferences. "I gotta keep my head in the playbook and ask questions. That's what I do every single day. There's nothing wrong about asking a question. They see that I'm the new guy here, and I -- for the most part -- get all the answers that I need."

He added: "Tom likes things a certain way. Me being the new guy, or any of us, we make sure that we do it that way."

Patriots-Steelers practice report: Full participation for Pats

Patriots-Steelers practice report: Full participation for Pats

Wednesday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

DID NOT PRACTICE
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
TE Ladarius Green (concussion)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)

FULL PARTICIPATION
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)