Caserio says draft deep at receiver, front-7 players

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Caserio says draft deep at receiver, front-7 players

INDIANAPOLIS - As we dive further into the 2012 draft class, it's worth noting that two perceived positions of need for the Patriots - outside receiver and edge pass rusher - are fairly well-stocked. Whether that makes the Patriots leap is another issue entirely. Bill Belichick said the edge rushers in the 2011 class were as good as he'd ever seen and the Patriots didn't pluck one in the first three rounds. But, as Patriots personnel man Nick Caserio explained, the talent is there in a draft stocked with pre-senior talent.
"This is the most underclassmen I think that actually asked for an evaluation from the league," Caserio said at the NFL Combine. "Theres depth at more positions relative to others. Id say receiver is a position of strength. The offensive line is a position of strength. The front seven is a position of strength. A lot of the players, front seven especially that were down at the Senior Bowl, are some of the better players in this draft. I think its a good draft. Like every year, each position has a little more depth or balance relative to others. Thats kind of where it is right now as we sit here at the combine.

With the Patriots playing a base 4-3 defense to begin the 2011 season then shifting to more 3-4 later in the year, Caserio was asked if scheme mattered in terms of deciding where to rate players. A good question. Caserio was a little vague in his answer though, saying they'll look at versatility. "You look at the front seven in general terms because you could really shift back and forth depending on whether it was the team or opponent we were playing," Caserio explained. "At the end of the year, we were playing a little more odd fronts. We played, I think, 65, 70 percent of the snaps were sub defense. Were a multiple team, so, you look at those front seven players in general terms and then you get them into your program and figure out where their skill set is best going to be utilized."One place the Patriots are well-stocked is the interior defensive line with young players like Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace and Myron Pryor (although Brace has been a bit of a disappointment). One spot that's very weak in this draft is safety. And the Patriots are very thin at that spot.

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Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch knew he had a good case, otherwise he wouldn't have appealed. It was just a question of when that appeal might be heard. 

As of Wednesday, the Patriots defensive tackle hadnt heard anything as it related to the appeal of his four-game suspension. But by Saturday morning, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch had won the appeal and been cleared of the league's ban. 

Branch's agent later confirmed the news on Twitter.

Word of Branch's punishment, which stemmed from what was reported as a positive marijuana test, became public when reported by ESPN on Nov. 21. Per the league's substance abuse policy, appeal hearings are typically scheduled for the fourth Tuesday after a player has been informed of his penalty. The policy notes that it is possible for appeals to be heard on another date should the two sides be able to work out different schedule, but Branch was not optimistic that would be the case earlier this week. 

Good news came quickly, though. 

Had Branch been forced to miss any time, it would have docked the Patriots arguably their top interior defensive lineman. Branch has started every game, and he leads all Patriots defensive tackles with 457 snaps played. 

The Patriots recently waived running back DJ Foster and signed defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, seemingly as a way to build some depth on the roster if Branch had been suspended. 

By having his four-game suspension wiped away not only are the Patriots saved from having to deal without one of their top players in the trenches, but Branch saved himself a relatively hefty financial penalty.

A four-game ban would have cost him nearly $300,000 in base salary as well as four game-day bonuses adding to $100,000. He also stood to lose as much as $750,000 in season-long playing-time incentives. In all, had the suspension stood, it could have cost him about $1.1 million. Patriots salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan goes into more detail about the potential financial impact of Branch's suspension here

Thankfully for Branch, he doesn't have to worry about that any longer. With this situation in the rear view, he can now focus on helping the Patriots win games during the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.