Late-game preseason action fine with focused Branch

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Late-game preseason action fine with focused Branch

FOXBORO -- Deion Branch had never been here before.

It was the fourth quarter of a preseason game. Most of the Patriots' top offensive unit didn't even play. And here's Branch, on the field, waiting to return punts.

Branch had two punts kicked in his direction on Monday night -- both in the fourth quarter -- but he let them fly over his head inside the 10-yard line.

Still, the fact that he was out there that late in such a meaningless game was new to him. He said afterwards that he knew it was coming.

"It wasn't strange," said Branch. "We spoke about it before the game."

Belichick had previously told Branch that he was going to get him the extra playing time on Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a way to make up for him missing the team's preseason opener. But it was also a sign of what the Patriots have on their roster, which is, a plethora of wide receivers.

Even without Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots still have receivers battling for roster spots. And with the numbers New England presents at the position, the veteran Branch isn't necessarily guaranteed anything.

Still, even having to play in the fourth quarter of a preseason game, some veterans would see that as a sign of disrespect. Not Branch. He knows the deal in New England.

"I'm just controlling my job to come here and play ball, and help the team," said Branch after New England's 27-17 loss to the Eagles.

"Every year there's competition. You know, every year. It doesn't change."

Branch finished the game with three receptions for a team-high 51 yards. Afterwards, he was saying all the right things. But perhaps, that state of mind is exactly why he shouldn't be worried.

"I feel good about my situation, as far as everybody's role," said Branch. "Nobody has a role right now. Nobody's made the team.

"Right now, it's just all about me going out, doing what I have to do to make the team."

Wilfork on Body Issue: 'Looking forward to what the locker room's going to say'

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Wilfork on Body Issue: 'Looking forward to what the locker room's going to say'

ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue won't hit newsstands until July 8, but Vince Wilfork gave people a not-so-little preview of what to expect this week.

The former Patriots defensive lineman, who is listed at 325 pounds but said he's weighed as much as 350 pounds, sat down for an interview about his size that landed on ESPN.com on Thursday.

"I just think it's a good idea for people that are bigger-boned," Wilfork said when asked why he posed nude for the Body Issue. "If people can look at me, a guy that's 325-plus, doing an issue like this, I'm pretty sure that they might have a little confidence.

"There will be critics, just like with everything else. I think a lot of people will get a laugh out of it, I'll tell you that. I'm looking forward to what the locker room's going to say. But at the end of the day, I'm perfectly fine with who I am as a person and what I have accomplished. It shows a lot of my personality."

You can read the full interview here, as well as watch a video that shows Wilfork in all his modeling glory.

Brady, Gronkowski make Top 10 of NFL Network's Top 100

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Brady, Gronkowski make Top 10 of NFL Network's Top 100

Ask a football fan in New England, and he or she might tell you that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are the top two players in the NFL. A random NFL player might not be as generous, but on balance, Brady and Gronkowski's peers consider the Patriots stars to be among the top 10 talents in the league. 

The NFL Network announced the final 10 players to be included in their annual Top 100 list, a list voted on by players, and both Brady and Gronkowski made the cut.

The order of the top 10 has been determined, but has not yet been announced. Brady and Gronkowski are in the running for No. 1 alongside Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Luke Kuechly, Cam Newton, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers and JJ Watt. 

The weekly series, which has counted down Nos. 100-11, will end on Wednesday, July 6 with two, one-hour episodes on NFL Network at 8 and 9 p.m. Highlights of each player will be featured, as will interviews with some of their teammates and competitors. 

"He plays with a chip on his shoulder he’s always had," Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said of Brady, "that really separates him."

Of Rob Gronkowski, Texans corner Charles James II said, "He's a glitch on Madden."

The only other Patriots players included in the Top 100 were Julian Edelman (who came in at No. 87) and Chandler Jones (No. 48). Jones, now a member of the Cardinals, was the only Patriots defender involved. 

Corner Malcolm Butler, linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower and safety Devin McCourty all had an argument to be included but were left off. 

NFL.com contributors Gregg Rosenthal, Chris Wesseling, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ike Taylor put together their own individual Top 100 lists to supplement the one voted on by current players. Rosenthal included Collins (No. 64), McCourty (No. 73) and Butler (No. 99) in addition to Edelman (No. 84). Wesseling included Collins (No. 43), McCourty (No. 88) and Hightower (No. 91), but not Edelman. Jones-Drew included both Edelman (No. 62) and Butler (No. 95). Taylor included only Edelman (No. 89).