SEATTLE – Deion Branch botched his first impression in Seattle. And his second. And his third. And his fourth. And somehow, against all opposition, the cameras are still rolling for Take No. 5.
It’s hard to determine whether he’s lucky, persistent or self-abusive.
“I feel good,” Branch said last week, dismissing his snake-bitten four seasons with the Seahawks. “I feel real good. Real, real good. Feel good.”
He sounded like he was auditioning to be the next James Brown. All he lacked was a few dance moves and a perm.
In truth, he looks as good as he feels. The injury-prone wide receiver has enjoyed as fine a preseason as any of the Seahawks. New coach Pete Carroll praises him. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck finally seems comfortable with him. Expectations are starting to form. All the while, you crank up the cynicism, roll your eyes and shout, “Not again!”
The Seahawks traded a No. 1 pick to New England in 2006 for the right to overpay Branch, and since then, he has collected more missed games because of injury (15) than touchdown receptions (14).
Then, last season, he was labeled a malcontent. It’s a misperception – Branch is one of the most affable Seahawks – but he brought it on himself. And people had been looking for an excuse to get after him for his spotty production.
Branch provided fuel for criticism with his bizarre “You know where to find me!” end-zone celebration, which many wrongly thought was an invite for teams to trade for him. And in late December, he and T.J. Houshmandzadeh turned Nate Burleson’s weekly radio show into a session to vent about their haters. It was embarrassing. And for Branch, it was particularly damaging.
“And for all the other people who’s doubting the Seahawks, I’m going to tell you this right here: It’s either you with us or you against us, bottom line,” he said that day.
Looking back, Branch wishes he would’ve expressed his frustration differently. He remains adamant that his motivation was to defend teammates, but he came across as flippant toward fans.
“If I offended anyone in the past, I’m sorry,” Branch said. “The only thing I will say I regret is letting outsiders inflict damage on what we have going on in-house.”
It says something about both Branch’s character and his success in New England that he has survived two coaching changes and one general manager switch with the Seahawks.
During the offseason, Branch heard the erroneous talk that he might be thrown into a potential trade for then-Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The false report actually led to an important moment. New general manager John Schneider called Branch to address the speculation, and they forged an honest relationship as a result.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Schneider said, according to Branch. “If something were to come up, I would call and let you know. If you have any issues, make sure you give me a call.”
Since then, Schneider has lived up to his word. Branch feels the same about Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.
“In this profession, there’s a lot of disloyalty,” Branch said. “But these guys are very loyal. … The line of communication is there. It means a lot.”
When new management takes over, you expect casualties. But it’s just as important to rescue lost players. Branch has been thrown a life jacket, and now it’s on him to make the most of it.