NFL

DL Alan Branch finally having impact for Cardinals

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)

The Arizona Cardinals coveted Alan Branch so much that they traded up to get him with the first pick in the second round of the 2007 draft. He's been a big, literally too big, disappointment - until this season. The coaching staff challenged the former Michigan standout to show up weighing less and in better shape, and Branch complied. That gave him his chance, and he's earned a backup role at nose tackle and defensive tackle. In last Sunday night's 24-17 road victory over the New York Giants, Branch got the first two sacks of his pro career. "I feel good. I'm at home," Branch said. "I'm actually feeling like I'm more part of the team." The 6-foot-5 Branch reportedly lost about 25 pounds to meet coaches' demands that he come to training camp at about 335 pounds. "He had to come in with a specific weight and if he did or didn't, it was going to tell us everything," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "He didn't have to say one word. That was going to tell us his commitment - and he came in and he made weight." Then Branch passed the run test, something he had struggled with the previous year. "So all of a sudden he starts sending us messages as a coaching staff that, 'I want this, I'm ready to commit to working hard and working consistently,"' Davis said. Branch, from Rio Rancho, N.M., left Michigan after his junior season after being a big part of a Wolverines defense that led the nation in allowing 43.3 yards rushing per game. He played in 11 games as a rookie, but found himself in the coaches' doghouse after showing up so heavy for the 2008 training camp. He was inactive for 12 regular season games and all four playoff contests. There was widespread speculation that Branch might be released. He said he never thought that would happen. "I never thought for a second that they would cut me but it seems like everybody and their mom thought I'd get cut by after training camp," Branch said. "Here I am now doing OK. Maybe later on I can do great and get a little more playing time out there, so we'll see." Coach Ken Whisenhunt wouldn't say the team was close to giving up on Branch. "I think our frustration level was higher with Alan at times because we always thought that he could play like he's playing now," Whisenhunt said. "You always would like to see it happen earlier in his career because of where we drafted him. But I can't say now that I'm disappointed at all. We still have aspirations of Alan improving." Branch is listed as the No. 3 nose tackle behind starter Bryan Robinson and backup Gabe Watson. But he's also seeing time at tackle behind Darnell Dockett, a position he prefers. He said he'd never played nose tackle before coming to Arizona, and he likes the freedom of playing outside on the line. "You can go either side of the guard. You can do different moves," Branch said. "When you're on the nose, you're like three inches away from the center so you've got to react to that." Davis said Branch needs to lose even more weight if he wants to be consistently effective on the outside of the line. So far, Branch has kept his weight consistent. "He is a guy that for whatever reason the lights came on and he realized certain things that we expected of him in order for him to play," Davis said. "And then when he got his chance to play at the weight we know is best for him, his athleticism comes out." Branch is just finally glad to be a contributing member of the team. "I just wanted to make sure they could trust me this year," he said, "they'd know that I'm working hard really to just get my shot on the field."
Tagged: Cardinals

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