Branch release ties in to tight ends

Branch release ties in to tight ends
August 31, 2012, 9:43 pm
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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.