Branch embraces new and familar in return to New England

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Together again, Deion Branch and Tom Brady walked side-by-side to the sunny practice field.

The New England Patriots' new wide receiver was receiving a crash course on plays installed since he left the team in 2006, after he was part of two Super Bowl championships.

"I still remember some plays," Branch said Tuesday. "They didn't call those plays today."

The Patriots on Monday reacquired Branch, whom they drafted in the second round in 2002 -- and who was the MVP of their 2005 Super Bowl triumph -- from the Seattle Seahawks for a fourth-round draft pick next year.

Some things are the same since New England traded Branch to Seattle: Brady, center Dan Koppen, tackle Matt Light, guard Stephen Neal and running back Kevin Faulk are still around from the offense.

And much is different: The Patriots haven't won the Super Bowl since Branch left. Randy Moss has come and gone. And Branch is wearing No. 84 because his old 83 belongs to Wes Welker.

"Wes came in, did a great job," Branch said with one of the many wide smiles he flashed during his 10-minute news conference. "I'm just going to get one (number) higher than his, because I'm taller than him."

At 5-foot-9, Branch doesn't exactly tower over Welker. And with Julian Edelman, listed at 5-10, three of the Patriots' top four receivers are small.

Size isn't the only difference between Branch and the 6-4 Moss, whose trade Wednesday to the Minnesota Vikings created a need for an experienced wide receiver in New England. Branch hopes to play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

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"That's the first thing I want to let you all know," Branch said. "I'm not here to replace Randy. I'm not Randy Moss. I wasn't Randy Moss when I was here, and I'm not here to replace him. My job is to go out and do what the offense asks me to do."

Moss was a deep threat who drew double-teams. Branch is a possession receiver. But both left the Patriots after having contract concerns and said they felt as if they were home again after returning to their original NFL teams.

Moss said several times this year that he didn't believe the Patriots would re-sign him before his contract expired after this season. Branch, who led the Patriots with 78 catches in 2005, was traded the day after the 2006 opener, following a 45-day holdout that he staged in hopes of improving on the $1.045 million he was scheduled to receive that year, the last of his original contract.

"I wish it never happened, but no regrets," Branch said. "When I left here, there weren't any issues between me and coach (Bill) Belichick, none at all. We talked during the course of the year. ... We didn't leave on a bad note, and I think that's why it was so easy to return."

Branch is signed through next season with base salaries of $5.45 million in 2010 and $5.95 million in 2011. But he said he'd be willing to adjust that. He also said he thought it more likely that he would be traded last year, when he started just five of 14 games he played for the Seahawks.

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Brady isn't sure that Branch's transition will be smooth.

"I'm sure there will be a pretty steep learning curve for him," Brady said on his weekly appearance on WEEI-AM. "Hopefully, he gets up to speed as quickly as possible, because we'll need him this week."

Brady also denied a report aired on a CBS pregame show Sunday that he and Moss had a confrontation before the receiver was traded.

Branch, in his first stint with the Patriots, made 213 receptions for 14 touchdowns. Moss was much more prolific, with 259 catches and 50 touchdown receptions in three full seasons, plus four games this year. But Branch was outstanding in the 2004 and 2005 Super Bowls, with a total of 21 catches.

"I'm excited," said Edelman, a seventh-round draft choice last year. "He's been here when they won Super Bowls, and I'm going to be able to get to learn from another guy, another veteran."

Branch started three of Seattle's four games this season, catching 13 passes for 112 yards and one touchdown. He has been healthy after missing parts of the past three seasons with knee, hamstring and foot injuries. He caught 190 passes, 15 for touchdowns, with the Seahawks.

Branch said he was "very thankful" to have been part of the Seahawks' organization and also to return to the team that drafted him, then traded him for a 2007 first-round pick that turned out to be starting safety Brandon Meriweather.

"The opportunity presented itself, and they took another shot at it," Branch said.

None of the team's receivers were on the team during Branch's first go-round in New England.

"That's part of the business," he said. "They find a way to get the job done."

They're receiving plenty of help from the quarterback who escorted Branch to Tuesday's practice.

"When you have a quarterback such as Tom, you can do a lot of things," Branch said. "You've just got to make sure you put the right guys in the right place. You just follow (Brady's) lead, and he won't lead you in the wrong direction."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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