FOXBORO -- Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch was missing from the start of Tuesday's practice, which was held inside Gillette Stadium. It was the first practice held on the team's game-day turf since they held a training camp practice for season-ticket holders and Foxboro residents.
Branch was not spotted during the media-availability portion of Thursday's practice last week. He has been coach Bill Belichick's most consistent defensive tackle this season, which Belichick pointed out recently, saying both Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine should aspire to play at the level of their 10-year veteran teammate.
Branch started all 16 regular-season games for the Patriots and played in 60 percent of the defensive snaps, which was his heighest percentage of defensive snaps he has played since 2011 when he was a member of the Seahawks. Branch turned 32 years old at the end of last month.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has skipped a handful of practices since taking a hard hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in Week 10, was present for the start of the fully-padded session.
Returning to practice on Tuesday was Patriots corner Cyrus Jones, who had not practiced since the Wednesday before the regular-season finale due to a knee injury.
PHOENIX -- For an indication of just how high the expectations sit for newly-acquired Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks, have a look at what team owner Robert Kraft said during the annual league meetings at the Biltmore on Monday.
Asked about all the moves Bill Belichick and his front office have made this offseason, Kraft started with the former Saints big-play threat.
"I think what they've done is excellent this year," Kraft said. "And I know bringing this young man from New Orleans . . . since I've owned the team, the only player who could make an impact like that at wide receiver is Randy Moss. [Cooks] doesn't have [Moss'] height, but he's got his speed. I think that's complementary to what we have on the team. I'm excited about him joining us."
Cooks gives the Patriots one of the most dynamic pass-catching threats in the NFL and should provide an additional boost to an offense that ranked third in the league in points scored (27.6) in 2016. He is one of three players to record 75 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. The other two? Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.
Those are some big names, but Moss may be the biggest ever associated with Cooks. What Moss did when he arrived to New England in a trade with the Raiders in 2007 was historic, catching 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns.
As excited as Kraft is for Cooks' arrival, not even he will project a similarly gaudy statistical year. But he's clearly thrilled that Tom Brady will have yet another explosive receiving threat to pair with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and an impressive stable of pass-catching backs.
Marc Bertrand discusses Robert Kraft’s comments about Brady wanting to play another 6-7 years, and why he thinks it would be tough for Belichick to believe that Brady can realistically play that long.