FOXBORO -- It's hard to discern during OTAs what's solid intel and what's just happenstance.
For instance, if a coach calls for a player to jump in on kickoff returns as a fill-in, but the media doesn't know the tenor of the request, misreads happen.
Rightly or wrongly, I spend more time watching formations and individual work than "scheme" stuff. So it made me perk up some when I heard Deion Branch say that Josh McDaniels "has thrown a lot of different wrinkles at us" during the OTAs.
McDaniels' NFL orientation came with the Patriots and he was schooled in the offense authored by Charlie Weis, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. But McDaniels had the opportunity to add to his tool belt as head coach in Denver and then as offensive coordinator for the Rams. Branch welcomes McDaniels back "and all the great things he picked up."
And it was interesting to hear Branch add that "there ain't too much (fooling around) going on because everyone is still picking up the offense. It's a plus especially with a new offensive coordinator and doing the new stuff we're doing."
Branch also says he's enjoying the chance to play with longtime friends Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth for the first time.
"We all came in together, me Jabar and Donte were all in the same draft class and to have an opportunity to play with those guys is great," said the 2002 second-rounder.
Stallworth was the first of the wideouts taken in the 2002 draft -- 13th overall to New Orleans. Gaffney went 33rd to the Texans (Houston's second draft pick ever), and Branch was the final pick of the second round (65 overall).
President-elect Donald Trump made sure to thank a few of his supporters from New England -- particularly those at 1 Patriot Place -- during a speech on the eve of his inauguration to the nation's highest office.
Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady all earned shout-outs from Trump. Kraft was one of many Trump donors present for a dinner at Washington, DC's Union Station, where he was singled out by the soon-to-be-president.
"In the audience we have somebody that's under no pressure whatsoever because he's got a great quarterback named Tom Brady and a great coach named Belichick: Bob Kraft," Trump said. "Good luck, Bob.
"Your friend Tom Brady just called. He feels good. He called to congratulate us. He feels good. Good luck. You're going to do great."
Trump gave one extra nod to Belichick, who he says taught him to out-work his competition.
"I out-worked everybody," Trump said. "I think I out-worked anyone who ever ran for office. I learned that from Belichick."
FOXBORO -- The Patriots have signed free-agent tight end Rob Housler to a future contract. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound target last played for the Bears but was released at the end of training camp.
Housler won't be eligible to participate with the Patriots during the postseason, but he will be available for the offseason program and training camp leading up to the 2017 campaign.
Housler taken in the third round by the Cardinals with the 69th overall selection in 2011. In 65 career games, he has 109 catches for 1,166 yards and one touchdown.
The Patriots may have been intrigued by Housler's skill set last summer when he caught one pass for 52 yards -- making two Patriots defenders miss in the process -- during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots and Bears held joint training camp practices in August that would have given Patriots coaches and scouts a closer look at everything Housler has to offer as a player.
Housler was one of the better athletes at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2011, running a 4.55-second 40-yard dash (fastest among tight ends), posting a 6.9-second three-cone drill, and recording a 37-inch vertical leap.
Bill Belichick and his staff hit big on a future-contract signing two years ago when a running back with a significant injury history was available to scoop up at the behest of then-assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi. Since then, the Patriots still have never lost with Dion Lewis in uniform.