Albany native and Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch talks to a crowd of kids who attended his 7th annual Skills and Drills Football Camp on Saturday at Albany State. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Albany native Deion Branch isn’t taking anything for granted.
Not the Super Bowl MVP trophy, not the 10 seasons he has spent in the NFL, not the 39 touchdowns and 6,499 yards combined that he has racked up with the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots — and not even a spot in the starting lineup, which used to be a given.
Branch, 32, isn’t overly worried that the Patriots recently cut ties with fellow veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco so the team could make room for younger talent, and the Monroe grad said Saturday at his 7th annual Skills and Drills Football Camp in Albany that he always feels like he has to battle for a spot on the roster every season.
“Every year since my rookie year I have been fighting for a spot,” Branch said. “Nobody is safe, but if you prepare yourself mentally and physically, you don’t worry about that. That stuff is in the coach’s hands.
“My job is to just go out and do me. You can’t control decision making. I’m not in the personnel department. Those days will come when I get to do that, but right now my job is to play ball.”
It was reported by Boston Globe sportswriter Greg Bedard earlier this month that Branch might have to battle for a roster spot.
“The guy catches everything but his burst is diminishing ... and he continues to be unimpressive,” wrote Bedard after personally observing Patriots OTAs, adding that “if not for Branch’s mind-meld rapport with (quarterback) Tom Brady, it’s unlikely he would have been re-signed after fading drastically down the stretch last season. (Competing receiver) Jabar Gaffney, spending most of his practice time behind (fellow receiver) Wes Welker in the slot, could begin eating into Branch’s reps.”
Branch said Saturday he hadn’t heard anything about himself being “unimpressive” at OTAs and actually thinks he had a fine workout.
“My OTAs were great,” Branch said. “I’m telling you, they were great. I felt great.”
Branch said that everybody on New England’s roster showed up for the OTA workouts and were hungry to get back to football after losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
“There was a lot of competition, and everybody got the same amount of reps,” Branch said. “It’s a lot of fun to see the guys back on the field and to see how eager they were to get back after the Super Bowl.”
ROCKET’S ROLE: They call him “The Rocket,” and folks in Seattle are beginning to understand why.
He exploded onto the scene for the Seahawks last year, catching two huge passes in the final two games and nearly lifting Seattle to a win in the season finale by torching Arizona DB Marshay Green with 7:47 remaining to catch a game-tying touchdown.
But Saturday, Lockette said he is ready to be remembered for more than just one catch.
“I just have to prove that I am an all-around receiver and not just a deep ball guy,” said Lockette, who got the name while he was playing football and running track at Fort Valley State, where he won an NCAA D-II National Championship in the 200M. “I can be a guy who can come across the middle or can catch the slant on 3rd-and-1. I want to be the No. 1 receiver on my team. Right now I am working for that No. 2 or No. 3 spot, so one day I want to be a franchise receiver. I want to be the Calvin Johnson or the Larry Fitzgerald. I want to be the go-to guy. Instead of running the ball on 4th-and-1, I want it to be a slant to Lockette. I want it to be a no-brainer that I can catch the ball when it’s thrown to me. I want to be dependable.”
Lockette, who posted the fourth-fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine last season, is one of five wide outs listed on the Seahawks’ depth chart and sits behind Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin in the No. 2 receiver position.
“My role is pretty much to stretch the defense and get over top of coverages and open it up for the run,” said Lockette, who added the thing he is most working on is reading coverages. “Hopefully, I can get my routes down to where (head) coach (Pete) Carroll likes them and open up the short game for myself.”
Lockette’s 40 time of 4.37 makes him one of the fastest players in the NFL, and it’s no secret he can beat opponents deep. Now he is just waiting on a full-time QB to emerge in Seattle.
During this month’s OTAs, the Seahawks split reps between incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, free-agent signee Matt Flynn and rookie third-round draft pick Russell Wilson, and Carroll told The Associated Press recently that, “They’ve all been able to run the club and function in the huddle and make their adjustments and the calls.”
Lockette didn’t want to comment on who he would rather see get the starting job, but he did say the uncertainty creates some challenges for the receivers.
“You just have to go out and play your best and let them handle their battle,” he told The Herald on Saturday. “You just try to get used to everybody’s ball because you aren’t quite sure who will be your quarterback. Your best bet is at the earlier part of the season to start working with all three quarterbacks.”