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Deion Branch continues offseason balancing act with autism charity event

06.06.12 at 4:47 pm ET
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Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch hosted an “Athletes 4 Autism” charity event at Boston University Wednesday afternoon and spoke on trying to find the balance between fitting events like this one into what is quickly becoming a busy offseason schedule.

Branch met with a group of about a dozen children at the BU recreation center, showing them how to catch a throw a football with ‘€œthe Brady spiral, not the Branch spiral,’€ according the 32-year-old receiver. The event itself was part of the Popchips ‘€œGame Changers’€ program, in which 15 athletes selected local charities as part of an effort to give back to the community. Afterwards, Branch talked about the role that charity events play in the offseason, particularly events for special needs children.

‘€œOne of my marketing guys called me and they presented an opportunity. Athletes for Autism, they gave me the entire breakdown,’€ Branch said. ‘€œThe fact that my son is a special needs kid, I’€™m always involved in things of this nature. It’€™s always good for the guys to give back, regardless of whatever situation the kids are in — that’€™s my thing.’€

This offseason is an important one for Branch, who enters mandatory minicamp next week on a roster that currently features 11 wide receivers. However, the long list of names at the position is a welcome sight for Branch, who had 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns last season.

‘€œCompetition’€™s good. It brings out the best in everyone,’€ He said. ‘€œI’€™ve been around a long time and to be a part of this group of guys we have here is pretty good. We got a great group of guys this year.’€

Branch’€™s trip from Foxboro was delayed due to a Patriots team meeting running late, but the late arrival had little effect on the event as a whole. Conflicts like that, Branch said, are part of the busy offseason, but aren’€™t enough to put his charity work on the backburner.

‘€œWork is first, and then you try and get yourself involved in the community as best as you can,’€ Branch said. ‘€œFrom this, from walking the marathon with my son, from my football camps, you have to try and find a balance within your life. I try my best, I make it work. I’€™m tired, but I get it done.

‘€œI gotta get my work in,’€ He said, apologizing for his tardiness. ‘€œBut the thing I wasn’€™t going to miss [was this]’€

Branch agreed to the event after being approached by the organization about two months ago and, after ‘€œa lot of running around’€ this offseason, reveled in teaching some basic football pointers to the children who attended the event.

‘€œThe biggest thing is just me trying to show them and watching them do it, that’€™s the most important thing,’€ Branch said. ‘€œThem smiling, I’€™m always smiling. These kids, it’€™s crazy to see all the small ones doing the things you’€™re trying to show them, and they’€™re trying their best to do them.’€

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Catching up with … the Ravens

06.06.12 at 1:26 pm ET
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Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’€™ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’€™ve already looked at the Jets. Here’€™s a glance at Baltimore.

The last time we saw the Ravens, they were losing to New England in a classic AFC championship game at Gillette, a 23-20 contest that almost ended up going into overtime if not for a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff at the end of regulation. (If Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore doesn’€™t break up a last-minute pass for Lee Evans in the end zone, Baltimore likely has that game won.) The Ravens ended the regular season with a 12-4 mark and the division title — a good year for many teams — but the loss to New England remains a bitter pill to swallow for a proud franchise that continues to set a very high bar.

Who they added: The Ravens went after some really intriguing players in the draft. They got Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw in the first second round, and he’s a guy who will be expected to contribute more than your average rookie — the departure of Jarret Johnson in free agency, and the injury suffered by Terrell Suggs (which he may or may not have suffered playing basketball and could keep him sidelined for the bulk of the 2012 season) will put a lot on Upshaw’s plate. In addition, they picked up interior offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski (Delaware), who should eventually become Matt Birk‘€™s successor at center. And they used a sixth-round pick on Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter, a prospect the Patriots had been sniffing around during the pre-draft process. In addition, they added free agent cornerback Corey Graham (formerly of the Bears) as an extra defensive back and special teams contributor.

(For what it’€™s worth, the Ravens kept restricted free agent corner Lardarius Webb in the fold with a six-year, $53 million contract extension. And everyone’€™s favorite defensive back, Bernard Pollard, got a three-year, $12.3 million contract extension.)

Who’€™s gone: The Ravens lost six defensive players — including the aforementioned Johnson (Chargers) and defensive end Cory Redding (Colts) — in free agency.

How they feel about the Patriots: ‘€œIt was a tough loss. We were a catch, a field goal, whatever, we were that away from the Super Bowl. Now, we’€™ve got to go prove to a lot of people and to ourselves that we can do the same thing again, but end up in the Super Bowl.’€ — Pollard on the loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game

Analysis: Again, there’€™s no reason to think that the Ravens won’€™t be among the AFC’€™s elite in 2012 — there’€™s just too much talent and smarts on both sides of the football. But there remain plenty of questions. The core of the defense — Suggs (when he returns) Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata — all remains in place, but the group is another year older. How much longer can this world-class defense sustain its current run? How will the franchise settle the contract situations of running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco? And can the Ravens shake off the hangover that comes with a bitter playoff defeat?

Read More: catching up with, Terrell Suggs,

Troy Brown’s Q&A with the media from Tuesday morning

06.05.12 at 2:05 pm ET
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Here’€™s the complete transcript of Troy Brown‘€™s Q&A with the media Tuesday morning.

TB: First of all, I thank each and every one of you for being here. I do appreciate it. I definitely want to say thank you to the many fans that voted and put me in this position. You guys feel free to fire away whenever you’€™re ready.

When you look at this accomplishment and honor, do you get a little bit nostalgic for how things started for you with the Patriots? It’€™s been almost a 20-year association you’€™ve had with the team now. ‘€œYeah, somewhat. You look back on it ‘€“ and I always look back on it ‘€“ where I started from and how shaky things were and how unsure things were for me for a long time wearing that Patriots uniform. I think it was like seven years in there where it was always pretty unstable for me. I look back on it now and I realize now how much the fans really did appreciate what I was doing when, at times, it seemed like some other people around the organization didn’€™t seem to realize that. When it comes down to it, I always played hard for my teammates and played hard for my coaches no matter who it was and ownership and you really wanted to go out there and make our fans happy. I think that now that I realize how much they appreciated the way I played the game, it does make me feel really good.’€

How would you rate yourself on the basis of natural ability? When you think of Hall of Fame, you think of supremely talented players. Where would you put yourself there? ‘€œI was always athletic. I didn’€™t have some of the skills that you see a lot of the athletes have. I could jump, I was quick, I could catch and all those types of things, but when it came to just flat out speed, that was something I had to work really hard at. I got better and I got faster and I think it showed. When I hit 28, 29 years old ‘€“ I was probably 30 years old ‘€“ I was running my best times ever in the 40-yard dash. That worked out in my favor. Maybe I don’€™t have all the things that you would think a guy my size would have, but I think I read some quotes from Bill [Belichick] and it’€™s kind of hard to make up for some of those things, but when you have the heart and determination to go out there and get something done and you go out there and you play the game like you love it, you can make up for a lot of things that you don’€™t have.’€

Did that make it more satisfying that you were able to do that? ‘€œOh yeah. I’€™ve loved football since I was a very tiny kid. I always figured out ways to be successful at it. Since I played Pee Wee Football, I always seemed to be on a team and surrounded with good people and good coaches. I was always able to go out and find a way to win games and that just came along with me. It’€™s just a part of who I am; you always find a way to get things done. It does, it makes me feel really good to know that I had to continue to work to make myself better and continue to work to convince other people who were evaluating me that I deserved to be on their football team. Thank God for Bill Belichick, Charlie Weis and all those guys that gave me an opportunity there to be a starter in the NFL. It worked out for me and it worked out for them too, so definitely a big thank you to them also.’€

When you retired, did you think that something like this, getting into the Patriots Hall of Fame, was only a matter of time? ‘€œYeah, those are things that kind of cross your mind from time to time. I’€™m not one that’€™s big on accolades and all those things and praise. I did my job and I’€™m proud of what I did and how I did it. As a player, you get to see all those things: I saw Stanley Morgan go in, I saw Ben Coates go in and all those guys go into the [Patriots] Hall of Fame, Bruce Armstrong. Yeah, you think about all those things because I see it, I played with some of those guys and you’€™re able to see them go in there. When you walk into the Hall of Fame and see the displays in there and all those things ‘€“ and me not being a person who’€™s big on all those types of things, when you see somebody’€™s personal stuff hanging up in there, yeah it does make you feel special and you want to be a part of that. Any human being would want to be a part of it, so it did cross my mind once I was done playing that maybe one day I would get to go back there and be in the Hall of Fame along with some of the greatest Patriots to ever do it, and I’€™m completely honored to be a part of that group now.’€
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An update on the status of the Patriots’ rookie contracts

06.05.12 at 12:18 pm ET
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Here’s our latest update on the contract status of the Patriots’ rookies. There’s no new updates on Dont’a Hightower and Jake Bequette, both of who remain unsigned, but we do have some updated contract info on those who have signed.

First round

Chandler Jones: The defensive end out of Syracuse inked a four-year deal with a team option for a fifth year. However, there’€™s one wrinkle in the contract, per Pro Football Talk: Jones, who was picked 21st overall, doesn’€™t have the same deal that last year’€™s No. 21 got (Browns defensive lineman Phil Taylor) in that there’€™s no fourth-year roster bonus of $750,000. It’€™s an interesting part of the contract, one that could come into play in 2015.

Dont’€™a Hightower: Unsigned. The Alabama linebacker, taken with the 25th overall pick, is represented by Pat Dye, Jr., of SportsTrust Advisors. Around Foxboro, Dye is best known as the guy who took over representation for former first-round pick Ben Watson when talks over a rookie deal between the team and Watson’€™s old agent Tom Condon went south.

Second round

Tavon Wilson: The defensive back out of Illinois was the first to sign, agreeing to a four-year, $4.217 million contract that includes a $1.507 million signing bonus, according to Aaron Wilson of Wilson reports that the first two years of the deal, $390,000 and $581,722, are fully guaranteed, while the last two years, $773,444 and $965,166, aren’€™t fully guaranteed.

Third round

Jake Bequette: The second of the two unsigned picks. The defensive lineman out of Arkansas is represented by Athletes First, a group that had 13 clients taken in the NFL draft, including four in the first round. Athletes First is an extremely well-known agency around New England, as they represent several current Patriots, including Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Nate Solder, Shane Vereen, Zoltan Mesko, Ryan Mallett and Brian Waters.

Sixth round

Nate Ebner: The defensive back/former rugby star has signed a four-year deal. Ebner appeared to be limited at rookie minicamp, but was back on the field for the latest OTA session that was open to the media last week.

Seventh round

Alfonzo Dennard: Dennard signed a four-year, $2.157 million contract that includes $57,848 signing bonus, according to a league source. The former Nebraska cornerback will have base salaries of $390,000, $480,000, $570,000 and $660,000.

Jeremy Ebert: The wide receiver out of Northwestern signed a four-year contract worth a total of $2.148 million, according to Wilson. (Ebert’s deal includes a $48,200 signing bonus.) Ebert was at rookie minicamp, but had to return to Northwestern until June to finish his degree, and he won’€™t be able to rejoin the Patriots until his senior class graduates.

Read More: Alfonzo Dennard, chandler jones, Dont'a Hightower, Jake Bequette

Deion Branch milks a cow

06.04.12 at 5:01 pm ET
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This has been a very interesting offseason for the Patriots’ wide receivers when it comes to their endorsement opportunities. Wes Welker was part of an ad campaign for adult diapers (which was for an excellent cause, for what it’s worth). Now, we have fellow wideout Deion Branch in a spot where he’s milking a cow in hopes of helping educate viewers on the importance of both natural and lactose free milk.

Read More: Deion Branch, Wes Welker,

Troy Brown among former Patriots who are headed to ‘boot camp’

06.04.12 at 4:04 pm ET
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Former Patriots wide receiver and kick returner Troy Brown will be one of 23 current and former players who will take part in the sixth annual ‘€œNFL Broadcast Bootcamp’€ at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J., the league announced Monday. Brown, a co-host on WEEI’€™s ‘€œNFL Sunday’€ and analyst for Comcast SportsNet, will be a part of the program, which will run from June 18-21.

The program, which runs from June 18-21, is directed by the NFL Player Engagement and NFL Broadcasting departments, and covers a wide range of topics with instructors from each of the NFL’€™s broadcast partners — CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, SiriusXM, Dial Global Radio, plus local radio and TV.

Brown will be one of several former New England players to take part this year. Chad Brown, who was a linebacker with the Patriots in 2005 and 2007, will also be there, as well as linebacker Corey Mays (who was on the New England roster from 2006-2007), quarterback Kevin O’€™Connell (2008) and kicker Shayne Graham (2010). Tackle Matt Light, defensive lineman Dan Klecko and safety Artrell Hawkins are among the former Patriots who have taken part in the program.

According to the NFL, of the 105 players who took part in the Broadcast Boot Camp from 2007 through 2011, 44 have earned broadcasting jobs as a result of their participation.

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Catching up with … the Jets

06.04.12 at 1:17 pm ET
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First in a continuing series this offseason that takes a look at some of the Patriots’ biggest competition in the AFC. We start our series with the Jets.

The last time we saw the Jets, they were finishing up a rather underwhelming 8-8 season, five games behind the Patriots in the AFC East. For a team that was coming off back-to-back appearances in the AFC championship game, a .500 season that ended without a playoff berth was humbling for Rex Ryan and friends.

Who they added: The Jets acquired a backup quarterback — maybe you’€™ve heard of him? Tim Tebow? (He was last seen getting flattened by the Patriots in the postseason.) They also added safety LaRon Landry and his giant arms in free agency. New York also picked up a few intriguing names in the draft in defensive end Quinton Coples (first round out of North Carolina), wide receiver Stephen Hill (second round out of Georgia Tech) and linebacker Demario Davis (third round out of Arkansas State). The Jets are hoping that Coples can provide a boost for a pass rush that had problems toward the end of the 2011 season. Hill is a physical freak who just tore up the combine. And Ryan has already compared Davis to Bart Scott and Ray Lewis, so, you know, no pressure there.

Who’€™s gone: Two big names that were only peripherally involved in the offense at the end of the season in wide receiver Plaxico Burress and running back LaDainian Tomlinson are still free agents after not re-signing with New York.

How they feel about the Patriots: ‘€œThis is a team we have to beat, clearly. The three years I have been here, they have won our division all three years. That’€™s something we want to do, so there is a chess match going on. Would our team look differently if ‘€¦ would we put so much of our resources, as some people would call them, into a corner if we weren’€™t playing the New England Patriots? I don’€™t know. We always look at what they are doing, but the main thing is building our team. We have a vision for our team, we’€™ve got to stay the course, we’€™ve got to do what we do best, and I think that’€™s our main focus.’€ — Rex Ryan on the Patriots

Analysis: Three things stick out about the Jets this offseason: One, a clearly chastened Ryan (who also has lost a ton of weight) promised this year at the combine that he wasn’€™t going to be making any Super Bowl predictions, saying the guarantee had a bad effect on his team. We’€™ll see how long that holds. Two, while the Jets did address the defensive side of the ball, there are still questions about the state of the offensive line. And three, the Tebow thing is just nuts. The dynamic between Ryan, Tebow and Mark Sanchez will be fascinating to watch if/when Sanchez struggles.

Read More: catching up with, Rex Ryan, Tim Tebow,
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