Report: Patriots re-sign Branch to one-year deal

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Report: Patriots re-sign Branch to one-year deal

The Patriots are by and large set at the wide receiver position after signing Brandon Lloyd, Donte' Stallworth, and Anthony Gonzalez so far this offseason.

Before that, they franchised Wes Welker.

But that didn't stop them from reportedly re-signing Deion Branch on Thursday.

Branch played 15 games for the Patriots last season, making 51 cached for 702 yards and five touchdowns.

Those numbers are almost identical with the ones he put up last season with the Patriots in 11 games -- 48 catches, 706 yards, five touchdowns.

He expressed his happiness on the completed deal via Twitter.

It's truly an honor and a blessing to be back with Patriots next year. Can't wait to get back in the swing of things. Deion Branch 84 (@deionbranch84) March 22, 2012
Branch turns 33 in July, and is clearly on the back-end of his career (which is why the Patriots needed wide receiver help), but a one-year deal (terms undisclosed) isn't too much of a risk, and his role on the team should be reduced some with the other wide receiver acquisitions made this offseason.

So what does this mean for Chad Ochocinco, the only full-time wide receiver who was under contract with the Patriots going into the offseason? He could be the odd man out.

ESPN was first to report the Branch signing.

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

BOSTON - With one quick flick of his wrists Monday night, Mookie Betts drove a pitch into the Monster Seats, marking his 30th homer of the season.

The homer put Betts into exclusive company in team history. Only two others before him -- Ted Williams and Tony Conigliaro -- had ever reached the 30-homer milestone before turning 24. 

It's a reasonable assumption that, with five weeks still to play in the regular season, Betts will more than double his home run total (17) from last year, a remarkable jump.    

More to the point, Betts wasn't projected as a power hitter. In 2011 and 2012, Betts played the first 72 games of his pro career career without hitting a single homer. 

The power began to manifest itself somewhat the following year when he belted 15 homers between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem, but still, few envisioned that Betts would show this kind of power at the major league level.

He was athletic, with extra-base capability, and speed. But a 30-home run hitter? That wasn't in the cards.

"That's pretty cool, hitting 30,” allowed Betts after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over Tampa Bay. "But that's not the reason we play.''

 For several minutes, Betts did his best to deflect questions about his milestone, consistently emphasizing team goals "first and foremost” over his own personal achievements.

"Trying to affect the game in some form or fashion,” he shrugged. "We're in a race right now and that's way more important[than individual stats].”

Still, Betts himself acknowledged that his homer total has come as something of a revelation.

"I definitely wasn't expecting [this kind of] power,'' he said. "But I'll take it while it's here.''

Maybe the power explosion shouldn't come as a shock, however. Betts has always demonstrated exceptional strength and fast reflexes, exhibiting the sort of "quick-twitch'' athleticism that make scouts drool.

He's improved his pitch selection and recognition, and it surely hasn't hurt to be part of a powerful Red Sox lineup that currently has him hitting behind David Ortiz and in front of Hanley Ramirez.

"Experience...knowing when and when not to turn on balls,” Betts explained further. "There's a whole bunch of things that kind of go into it.”

As he's gained confidence, Betts now picks certain counts where he allows himself to take bigger swings, though he's careful to  point out that he's not ever trying to hit homers.

"Not necessarily trying to hit a home run,'' he offered, "but trying to drive [the ball]. Those things come with experience and knowing when and when not to. I'm not trying to hit a home run. They just kind of come.''

In this, just his second full season in the big leagues, they're coming more and more frequently -- whether anyone expected it or not.

     

Potential is there, now how quickly will Jaylen Brown reach it?

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Potential is there, now how quickly will Jaylen Brown reach it?

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Tyler Zeller. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON –  When it comes to high NBA draft picks, there’s always a certain roll-of-the-dice dynamic in play, regardless of how impressive their credentials were in making them one of the first players selected.

Among this year’s incoming rookie class, Celtics forward Jaylen Brown is indeed one of the many men of mystery whose professional basketball career officially starts in a few months.

Drafted third overall, the 6-foot-7 Brown wasn’t exactly greeted with the warmest reception by Celtics Nation, many of whom wanted Boston to draft Providence College star Kris Dunn (he was the fifth overall pick, to Minnesota) or package the No. 3 pick with other assets to acquire a superstar-caliber player like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Utah’s Gordon Hayward or one of the Philadelphia big men, Jahlil Okafor or Massachusetts native Nerlens Noel.

But as Celtics fans witnessed when he was among the biggest stars on Boston’s summer league entry in Salt Lake City, as well as Las Vegas, Brown is indeed a player with tremendous potential that could be realized as soon as this season.  

The ceiling for Brown: All-Rookie honors

Brown’s most likely starting point as a pro will be serving as a backup to Jae Crowder, the unofficial Swiss Army knife of the Celtics roster. As we saw last season in Crowder’s first as a regular NBA starter, he can play a lot of positions on the floor and be effective.

Brown isn’t close to being as versatile as Crowder, but he does provide versatility at the wing position due to his above-average length and a level of athleticism that stands out among his fellow rookies.

Depending on what Brown does with his minutes at the start of the season – and he will play early on – he could parlay his on-court time into extended minutes, which would give him a shot at being one of the top rookies this season.

Brown isn’t going to put up the big-time numbers that Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram, the No. 1 and 2 picks, will register. Still, unlike those two players, Brown will be fighting for playing time on a legitimate playoff contender.

Both the Sixers and Lakers are poised to once again be among the worst teams in the NBA.

That means Browns’ success can’t be based on statistics, but instead it has to be about impact. We saw glimpses of that in the summer when he showed off his ability to attack the rim and draw contact, which resulted in him taking more than 10 free throws per game.

No one is expecting Brown to be that proficient at getting fouls called for him, especially when you consider only two players in the NBA last season – Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Houston’s James Harden – averaged 10 or more free throws per game.

But Brown’s aggressive style on offense, coupled with above-average athleticism and length defensively, will bode well for his chances of being more than just a solid rookie for Boston.

Brown has the potential to make a noticeable impact, the kind that would most likely land him a spot on one of the NBA’s All-Rookie teams and move him a step closer towards being one of the NBA’s better players – a goal he has set for himself.

The floor for Brown: Active roster

If Brown struggles offensively and doesn’t adjust defensively as quick as coach Brad Stevens wants, Brown could find himself on the bench racking up a few DNP-CDs (did not play-coaches decision) this season.

Still, even if that happens, the Celtics will not let him spend too much time at the end of the bench and certainly wouldn’t look to have him on the bench in street clothes as a healthy scratch. They would just as soon send him to play or practice with the team’s Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

While the rumors swirled on draft night that Boston was indeed planning to make a blockbuster-type move that would have involved the No. 3 pick, you won’t hear anyone in the front office complaining about drafting Brown.

They love his competitiveness, his drive to steadily improve as a player as well as his athleticism, which sets him apart from most of his Celtics teammates.

But only time will tell just how quickly the faster-paced NBA game will come to Brown. He’s a player the Celtics – for now at least – have every intention of including as part of their core group going forward.

Brady says he hopes to play Thursday night vs. Giants

Brady says he hopes to play Thursday night vs. Giants

FOXBORO -- All last week, leading up to the preseason game between the Patriots and the Panthers, sports talk radio (and television) debate raged: Should Tom Brady play? 

On one side of the argument were those who believed Jimmy Garoppolo should receive every last game rep as he prepares to be the starter for the first four weeks of the regular season. On the other side were those who believed Brady needed work at some point between New England's AFC title game loss to the Broncos and this season's Week 5 matchup with the Browns. 

Now we know how Bill Belichick and the Patriots felt: Brady played four series, completing three of his nine attempts, including one 33-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan.

But now, one week later, the debate may resurface. Brady has taken preseason game snaps. That can be checked off of the to-do list. Should he play again, though? If the goal is to keep him as sharp as possible for Cleveland, should he see time against the Giants?

He hopes to. 

"I mean, [it's] always up to coach Belichick," Brady said during a press conference on Tuesday. "I wish I'd play every game. I love playing. I love playing in practice. I love playing in preseason games, regular season games, postseason games. I love thinking about football. It's just the way it is. That part, I think, would be very challenging watching those games in September, but I'll find ways to preoccupy my mind."

Brady alluded to the fact that he had to make the most of every repetition he has with the team before his four-game ban kicks in. Whether those repetitions come in practice -- Tuesday's practice will be his last with the Patriots -- or on Thursday night, they all carry importance in his eyes.

"I've got a good day of practice [Tuesday]," Brady said. "I've tried to look at all these days of practice as ways to get better. I have access to the fields, and throwing to my receivers. [I] try to use those days the best that I can, just like I always would. I got another, hopefully, opportunity to play on Thursday night, be with the team Friday, and then try to do the best that I can over the next month."

If the team decides that it is within its best interest to play Brady against the Giants, the question would then become when? Because the fourth preseason game is typically a last chance for fringe players to make their cases for roster spots, if Brady were to play late in the game, he may be playing behind players who might not be on the team soon thereafter. If he starts, it takes away an opportunity for either Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett to make a start on the road and work against what will likely be more talented defensive players. 

It may be a difficult call, something that Belichick alluded to earlier this week. 

"I’m sure," Belichick said, "you could bring up a lot of ‘If we did this, if we did that,’ those would all be good, and they would be, and we do that in the staff meeting. ‘We’d like to do this, we’d like to do that,’ OK, but what’s most important? What is at the top of the list? Or, how can we maybe do two or three things if we do take a certain approach? So, that’s what we try to figure out, so we’ll see."