Notes from Patriots OTAs: Week 2

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Notes from Patriots OTAs: Week 2

FOXBORO -- Thursday, the Patriots had their second OTA session open to media. Here's a little bit of what went on. The team started with stretching, per usual. Defense was in grey, offense in white. Absent from today's session: Myron Pryor, Daniel Fells, Logan Mankins, Brian Waters, Jeremy Ebert, and Sebastian Vollmer. Ebert is still at Northwestern, awaiting his June 16 graduation. The rest could have shown up after media availability was over, but none of the other four were seen last Thursday, either. One guy I didn't see last week who was around this time: Tracy White. It was reported White has been recovering from hernia surgery and the team is treating the process cautiously. Today, he did some running on a side field, along with Rob Gronkowski, Joseph Addai, and Matthew Slater.
Addai also ran on a harness and ran some cone drills. Something to keep an eye on because he participated in position work last week. Brandon Spikes stretched with the team before retreating to the bubble. The offensive line has been worth keeping an eye on because of the musical chairs being played. Robert Gallery, who stood in for Mankins at left guard last week, took some snaps on the right this time. Marcus Cannon played some right tackle. Ryan Wendell played guard again in Waters' absence. A different look at center? Donald Thomas. I don't believe he saw a minute there last season. The drills check timing of the O-line against different fronts, different looks. OTAs are all about fundamentals and communication. Josh McDaniels got together with Brady, Brian Hoyer, Shane Vereen, and Danny Woodhead to study option routes. McDaniels would move his shoulders, imitating a middle linebacker. It was on the signal callers and backs to read the cues, adjust, and work with what was given. Brady is in mid-season form for screaming. He was at one point angry and pleading for urgency from his running backs. I won't give you his exact words -- and not just because I'm not allowed to. Both Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead did some receiving on kickoff. Two others: Donte' Stallworth and Devin McCourty. McCourty was a go-to special teams player at Rutgers (14 returns for 356 yards and one touchdown in 2009), but hasn't reprised the role in New England. There was just no reason to risk injury with how well he played corner his rookie year. McCourty had one return for the Pats in 2011 for 24 yards. Stallworth has returned neither kick nor punt since 2005. When Stephen Gostkowski split off with Zoltan Mesko to practice field goals, he went though a routine similar to his pre-game. Kick, move back a few yards. Kick, move back. Kick, move back. Gostkowski had a nice boot from 51 yards out. A try from 56, however -- no good.

Branch carries on with productive season after suspension is overturned

Branch carries on with productive season after suspension is overturned

FOXBORO – The first snap of the game for the Los Angeles Rams offense was an inside handoff to running back Todd Gurley. He was summarily stuffed by Patriots defensive lineman Alan Branch for a 1-yard loss.

It was happenstance, of course, that the Rams chose to run right at Branch. But it was no coincidence that the Branch was there to envelop Gurley like an upright sofa. The 6-foot-6, 350-pound, 31-year-old has been doing that all season. And on Saturday, word broke that he will be able to continue doing so, uninterrupted by NFL discipline.

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

Branch, who was set to be suspended by the NFL for testing positive for marijuana, had his suspension rescinded by the league. The league did so without hearing the appeal Branch filed. Apparently, they decided they just got it wrong. The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reports that the traces of marijuana in Branch’s system were from a previously failed test and did not constitute a separate incident.

It’s been a strange season for Branch, a quirky, goofy, good-natured guy who dances during practices, stretching, on the sidelines and in between plays more than any other Patriot. That’s if any other Patriot actually dances. Branch was suspended by the team for a week during training camp. Reason unknown.

Regardless, his play’s been very good.

“This has definitely been the most productive year I’ve had so far,” he said. “Is it my best? When it comes to numbers it probably would be but there’s a lot of plays and a lot of games I could have done better. I’m kinda my own worst critic.”

Why has he been so productive?

“It’s a good defense for me,” he explained. “The playcalls and way we play goes to my strength to allow me to make plays and I’m making them.”

Branch has 40 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble this season. He had just that lone tackle on the stat sheet on Sunday, but he was a factor even if the stats don’t say so. During one first-half rush, Branch worked upfield with a bull rush, then spun back to his right to get in the face of Rams quarterback Jared Goff, forcing an incompletion.  

“That’s all reaction,” said Branch. “That was a hard day’s work on that play because I kept reacting and reacting and then I was right there. I just get out there and try to cause some ruckus.”

Meanwhile, the would-be suspension caused a ruckus for Branch prior to Saturday.

“I was upset because I knew I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “Having my name out there for my family and friends and my kids family and friends to see, you never want to have that on you. But I just wanted to go out there and take it one day at a time and play my best ball because I felt pretty confident that I was going to win the appeal or whatever was going to happen. I expected it because I didn’t see how it could go any other way when I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Asked if the league reached out to apologize for getting it wrong, Branch said, “I haven’t gotten anything yet. I haven’t read any emails yet, I haven’t opened my emails.”

Asked if he cares to hear an apology, Branch said, “I do care. I don’t know if it’s an apology or what (that he’s seeking) but the position I was put in was something else.”