Patriots' Branch: 'We're a lot better than last year'

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Patriots' Branch: 'We're a lot better than last year'

FOXBORO - The Patriots came within inches and a healthy Rob Gronkowski ankle of winning the Super Bowl last February on a Hail Mary pass in Indianapolis.

Laments piled high.

But this year, in the eyes of Deion Branch, the Patriots are even better, despite winning one less game in the regular season.

"We want to make this team, the 2012 Patriots team, a special team," said the veteran wideout. "Each year is going to be something different. Were a lot better than we were last year. We dont have the same players. That team, the 2011 team, was totally different from this year."

The 33-year-old Branch is finishing his 12th season and acknowledged that there are fewer games ahead of him than behind him.

"I think thats the most important thing that you just said, going into my (12th) year and Im still having a lot of fun," said Branch. "I love playing the game. I enjoy being in the locker room, being around my teammates and I think this is what its all about. We spend so much time together as players. This is where we want to be, this is the position we want to be in and hopefully we can better ourselves as the postseason goes on.

Branch is fatalistic about his future in New England and whether he has another season left in him.

"Trust me, however the marbles fall, I just let them fall. There are a lot of things you cant control in life. Trust me, if I was one of the personnel guys, Id be around every week until Im 40, 45 years old, but thats not my decision. If I was one of the personnel guys but I dont make those decisions."

A few other musings from Branch during his time with the media:

Q: (On getting the ball out quickly offensively)

DB: Trust me, we want to make sure we get the ball out of Toms Brady hands and make sure that were doing what were supposed to do and were where were supposed to be at for Tom. We cant worry about what the front line is doing. We have to do our job. I think so far everything has been good. We have been doing it and right now we need to do a little bit more for the guys to make sure were down the field where Tom wants us to be and I think well be OK.

Q: What are the differences between Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph?

DB: I think theyre both about the same. Both of the guys are pretty physical guys, very instinctive players. Theyre great with the ball; they have a lot of great hand-eye coordination. Both of those guys make plays on the ball. I think the safeties Glover Quin and Danieal Manning both of those guys are very active as well, especially in the run game. I think they have the right guys in place to run the system that theyre running.

Q: Do you still get pumped up for the postseason?

DB: Always. I get pumped up for the regular season games, all of it. Its a blessing just to play this game and now to be in the position that were in.

Q: You have a lot of guys on this team who play big roles who have never been in the postseason before. How do you tell them what its going to be like?

DB: I think the only thing is we both have film on a game from a couple weeks ago. I think thats about it. As far as what the score was, the game that we won four or five weeks ago doesnt matter. This is a one-game season. We play each other at 4:30 Sunday, thats the only game that matters, for both teams, especially for us.

Q: Does it help to look at their most recent game from last week as opposed to looking at the film from your game with them in December?

DB: Its good but the difference is theyre playing Cincinnati. We know for a fact that its going to be a totally different game plan. We dont do the same things that Cincinnati does. It still rolls back to the film that we have of each other. Once the game starts, theres going to be a bunch of different things theyre throwing around on both sides of the ball. Once the game settles down, we should see exactly what theyre doing.

Q: Do you have to wait for them to start the game to see what theyre doing?

DB: No. I think our biggest thing is to make sure we come out and start fast, regardless of what theyre doing. We have a great game plan and I know were going to continue to progress as the week goes on. Today we started with some great plays, went out and executed those plays and were expecting the rest of the week to be the same. We want to make sure we start fast.

Q: Tom Brady needs just one more win to be the all-time winningest quarterback in the postseason. What is his demeanor as he leads the team in the playoffs?

DB: You see it in the classroom, you see it on the practice field. This is the same leader that when I came into the league in 2002, hes still the same way. Hes still motivating guys, pushing guys. Hes a perfectionist and we all strive for it. At the same time, we all know that were going to make some mistakes but lets make sure we do a little bit more, make a lot more plays than our opponents and thats what its all about.

Q: Some people say that you guys lucked out. What do you think about that?

DB: Anybody can say that. Just like we felt like we threw a bunch of games early in the season. We got the number two seed because thats what we deserved. We put ourselves in that position. We went out and didnt take care of business on our own so we had to depend on someone else. I think most of all, theres nothing we can do to control that part. We can just go out and play and the position we were at with the seeding, it is what it is.

Q: What about some people calling the Texans a cupcake game?

DB: No, trust me, youre going to see a different Texans team. That we all know, I promise you that. Theyre a great team. Theyve been a great team all season long. Unfortunately they ran into a couple stumbles but thats football. Trust me, it wont be the same team that we played five weeks ago.

Q: How big of an advantage could it be to have Rob Gronkowski back?

DB: Itll be great. It will be big for us. Im pretty sure the coaches are going to continue to install Gronk through the game plan to make sure he gets his touches and hes around the ball.

Q: How about thinking about how the opportunities are more limited now?

DB: Exactly. This is what its all about now, the opportunity. Just make sure Im there for my team whenever my name is called upon; just doing my job.

Q: Where did you watch the first game when the team played the Texans on Monday night?

DB: Me and my wife watched the game in the basement.

Q: Up here?

DB: Yeah, I was here.

Q: How fired up were you for the game even though you werent playing?

DB: It felt good just to see the guys doing the things that they did do in the game. You always know it and because Im around it, but when youre away from it and youre watching as a fan, I was very pleased and very happy to see that. Its really nothing new because we can do a lot of great things if we go out and execute our plays the way were supposed to; that type of performance.

Q: Do you talk to the TV when youre watching the game?

DB: No, I actually have it on mute. I put the television on mute.

Thuney stands out in first day of one-on-one work

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Thuney stands out in first day of one-on-one work

FOXBORO -- With the introduction of fully-padded practices typically comes the opportunity for linemen on both sides of the football to shine. Unfortunately for the Patriots offensive line, Saturday was sort of a rough day.

Guard Jonathan Cooper, who has been playing as the right guard on the first offensive line unit through the early portion of camp, had to be carted off the field with a foot injury. Center Bryan Stork left practice in the middle of the workout for an undisclosed reason. Guard Shaq Mason took off for some conditioning on a lower field soon after practice began. And, while healthy enough to be on the field, Marcus Cannon had difficulty trying to keep defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard in check. 

One of the bright spots for offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia's group was rookie third-round pick Joe Thuney. The North Carolina State product has served as the left guard for the first-team offensive line thus far, and he more than held his own when the hitting commenced. 

He never appeared out of sorts next to left tackle Nate Solder, he blocked up to and through the echo of the whistle on a play-to-play basis, and he was one of the most impressive Patriots -- rookie or otherwise -- during the first one-on-one period for linemen during this year's camp. 

On his first snap, he was matched up across from last year's first-round pick Malcom Brown and held his ground against the team's top defensive tackle. Later, Thuney handled veteran free-agent pickup Frank Kearse. And on his final rep, he walled off second-year player Trey Flowers. 

For Thuney's part, those few minutes, encouraging as they might have been, had to be flushed from his memory quickly. 

"You can't think too much into one specific drill," he said. "You just gotta try and take it one play at a time and not put too much stock in one drill or one rep. If you have a bad one, just move past it. If you have a good one, move past that too and just go to the next play."

Thuney's aggressiveness and his understanding of the playbook to this point have to be as encouraging to the Patriots coaching staff as -- what appears to be, at least -- his sound technique.  

Mild-mannered in his interactions with reporters, Thuney was touted as a versatile and intelligent player coming out of college. He gushed about his college teammate Jacoby Brissett's leadership qualities soon after Brissett was drafted by the Patriots in May, and he's gone viral for his ability to slay the Rubik's Cube in a blink. 

He has some nasty to him, though. 

"I think inside every offensive lineman there's an inherent desire to play through the whistle," he said. "Obviously we don't want to play dirty or anything, but we try and play as hard as we can from whistle-to-whistle. And yeah...I do take pride in that." 

Thuney wasn't the only rookie lineman to play well on Saturday. When Cooper went down, it was sixth-rounder Ted Karras who began to see more work. 

Together, they caught the eye of at least one veteran defensive lineman. 

"They're physical," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "That's a good start. Obviously they'll have to work on different techniques. Coming from college you have different terminology, a different playbook, a different style of game probably. 

"I try to help them out as much as I can even though we go at it. After the play if I feel something, I'll definitely share with them, whether [to] help them going up against myself or help them in the long run because we're all on the same team at the end of the day."

Whatever lessons Thuney's received thus far -- whether they're from coaches or from teammates on the other side of the line of scrimmage -- it looks like he's taken them to heart.

Patriots excited by massive fan turnout for Saturday's practice

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Patriots excited by massive fan turnout for Saturday's practice

FOXBORO -- For years now, Patriots training camp practices have become an event. The opportunity to get an autograph, the sunny weather and the non-existent entry fee all make the two-hours-or-more practices a significant draw. 

But rarely do the crowds get as big as they were on Saturday. Fans filled the bleachers and lined the ramps that scale the outside of Gillette Stadium just to get a glimpse of what Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots were up to. 

The team's official Twitter account announced after practice that a whopping 21,781 fans had been in attendance. 

"It's awesome," said defensive end Chris Long, who spent the first eight years of his career in St. Louis without ever having made the playoffs. 

"As if being in pads the first day isn't exciting enough, you come out and these fans give you a real boost. It just speaks to the passion that these fans have. We're warming up in the hot tub, and we can see the fans filing in on ESPN or NFL Network. They beat us out on the field. It's pretty cool what they've got going here."

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, a Connecticut native who grew up following the Patriots, has spent time with the Redskins, Broncos and Jaguars, but Saturday's crowd caught his attention. 

"If I wasn't playing, I'd be up there too," he said. "This is a winning franchise and . . . the fans are loyal. This is a place that I've played at in the past, and the games are always sold out and the fans will give you a hard time when you're on the opposing team. I just happen to be on the good side now."

The Patriots are in the middle of their first stretch of five consecutive days of practice. Two of their first three practices have been held with temperatures reaching around 90 degrees, and Saturday's practice was the first padded session of the week. They'll go through their in-stadium practice on Monday night before they're given a full day to rest.  

Players indicated that having the kind of fan support that they had Saturday seemed to give them a jolt. Especially for the players who are new to the organization. 

"There's excitement in the air with these fans," Long said. "They're awesome sports fans. Boston sports have always been known to be passionate, but until you're here, you don't really get a feel for it. They are a lot of fun to play in front of out on the practice field."

Knighton kicks himself off Twitter

Knighton kicks himself off Twitter

FOXBORO -- If you're on Twitter and you follow Terrance Knighton, you know where he stands on all sorts of topics. 

He thought the Sen. Elizabeth Warren speech at the Democratic National Convention would be "epic." He watches the WNBA. He loves the Celtics. He hates it when his dog looks at him naked. He wants an uncensored sports talk show on the radio when he's done with his playing career. 

And those are things you could gather from his timeline in the last week alone. 

Three days ago, the avid Twitter user called it quits. For the time being. 

"I'm just gonna try something different," he said when asked about his self-imposed Twitter ban. "The environment that I'm around, everyone's just focused on football. I'll be off it for three weeks, and as soon as I break it in three weeks, I'll have a lot to say I'm pretty sure." 

Knighton said he's not concerned about getting himself into any trouble with what he may say on the social-media site, but given the amount of focus he wants to put into his job, it makes sense for him to back away now that training camp has begun. 

"I would never say anything to get in trouble," he said. "But I speak on everything so right now, all the Democratic and Republican conventions, I just keep them quiet right now." 

He added: "In the locker room, you don't see guys on their phones all the time. You don't see guys joking around. They're always doing something productive to win. I decided to give [Twitter] up for three weeks, but like I said, I can't wait to get back to Twitter because I always have a lot to say."