Another fan of Branch;Hasselbeck predicts big things

FOXBORO – NFL quarterbacks talk, and Matt Hasselbeck is no


Over the past five seasons, the Seahawks signal-caller has

spoken on-and-off with

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and

they often came back to the same topic: Deion Branch.

And Brady kept making the same observation.

”(Brady) would say, `Wow, I watch you guys on offense and,

you’re not really using him like we used him,’ ” Hasselbeck told

the Herald this week. ”But we had to do it that way, by default.

Deion was talented enough to play inside, play outside, and we had

other guys who could only play inside, so we moved Deion around (to

the outside).”

By the time Branch was traded from the Pats to Seattle in 2006,

he had wracked up 213 catches for 2,744 receiving yards with 14

scores. An up-and-down, injury-plagued tenure in the Northwest for

a team in transition led Branch home this week with great optimism

– especially from Hasselbeck.

”If anybody knows how to use him, it’s the

Patriots,” Hasselbeck said. ”If

anybody knows how to throw him the ball, it’s Tom Brady. I expect

that he has a good year this year.”

Branch has battled injuries, including a torn ACL, and his

production waned. Yet Hasselbeck raved about his health after an

impressive camp.

”He’s probably the same guy when (the

Patriots) last had him,” said

Hasselbeck, the former Xaverian and Boston College star. ”He looks

great. He’s very quick, he’s very explosive. I don’t know about

just a track race, but he’s very quick. And if guys try to get

physical with him, he’s strong enough.” ”And if the quarterback

believes in you,” he continued, ”that’s huge.”

Brady does. He was the one who called Hasselbeck in 2006 to tell

him he’d love Branch. The love continued in Seattle.

”If you were to ask the young receivers on our team, `What guys

in your career did you learn a lot from?’ I guarantee every one

would mention Deion Branch,” Hasselbeck said.

In earning Super Bowl MVP honors and stardom before being traded

to sign a big contract with the Seahawks, Branch excelled by

playing every position. Sometimes, Brady would simply move him

around in the huddle to find the right matchup, and the option

routes featured two minds thinking like one.

It wasn’t like that in Seattle. In the rigid West Coast offense,

Branch was pegged as the deep threat and outside receiver. His

assignment was rarely adjusted or ad-libbed. For a receiver

Hasselbeck described as ”more quick than fast,” it didn’t best

utilize his talents.

Thanks to the ACL tear and some woeful teams, Branch’s

contributions in Seattle never lived up to anyone’s expectations.

He missed 10 games over the past two seasons, then was a bit player

in four games before the trade.

For a Seahawks team that went a combined 9-23 in 2008 and 2009,

the highly compensated Branch was a scapegoat. Hasselbeck, who

claimed his team made ”217 roster moves” since coach Pete Carroll

arrived, took the blame off Branch.

”We let him go in part because we’re just changing over this

roster. It wasn’t because of him, it was more because of our

team,” Hasselbeck said. ”He got caught in a regime shift where

there was a lot of revolving door type stuff. But we would’ve been

way worse had he not been here.”

Coach Bill Belichick has not yet specified how he’ll use Branch,

saying, ”He will help our football team.”

Brady developed a serious rapport with Branch while earning two

of the Super Bowl rings. This week, he was cautiously optimistic

looking forward.

”(He was) reliable, consistent, tough, competitive,” Brady

said. ”I wouldn’t think he would forget how to do those


After three days of practice, Branch is putting the emotional

side of his return aside. He’s intent on not making it a situation

where players are ”hugging each other because I’m back.” He wants

to work, though most will be mental.

”As far as me being healthy and able to run around for 60

minutes,” Branch said, ”I can do that.”

Hasselbeck believes that, too. He appears as excited as anyone

to see Brady and Branch team up again.

”There are guys that I’ve played with that you feel like you

could throw to them with your eyes closed,” Hasselbeck said. ”I

know that Deion Branch is one of Tom’s favorite receivers of all