Branch: Football isn't meant for everybody to play


Branch: Football isn't meant for everybody to play

Bill Belichick's "suck it up" message regarding New England's short week has been received by the team. 
When asked if the compressed schedule is good practice for the regular season's Week 11 and Week 12 games (Indianapolis Sunday, Jets Thursday), Deion Branch answered the affirmative. 
Will it be exactly the same? No; managing 90 men for two games in five days adds a layer of intrigue that November will lack. But either way, whatever the month, the players have to take what comes. 
"Theres one thing aboutme and Tom Brady were just talking about this game just a while agofootball isnt meant for everybody to play," Branch said in Tampa. "Its a very mentally straining job as far as the game. Only certain guys are picked to play this game and the ones who are chosen, those are the ones that stand out. You have to stand strong through these times here. 
"But at the same time were blessed and we also love the game as well."
Branch is a sage veteran among Patriots; this season will be his eleventh in the NFL, seventh with New England. He's a go-to for reporters because of his mellow straightforwardness. 
Consider all the ado about this year's receiver competition. The team went out and got Brandon Lloyd, Donte' Stallworth, and Jabar Gaffney this offseason. Doubt was cast on Branch's standing.  
But as far as he's saying, it's just the same old, same old. 
"Trust me, Im dead honest when I say this: Ive gone into each training camp since my rookie season the same as I did this one -- ready to compete and I came in prepared. Just doing everything the coaches ask of me, whether that be special teams, whatever, any position on the football field and making sure I know every receiver position. 
"Thats our job and I honestly will say that has been the training throughout my entire 11 years."
A message of its own. 

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.