FOXBOROUGH — With the sun beating down on the Patriots practice field on an 80-degree afternoon, defensive tackle Alan Branch took a moment to request a bottle of water just before starting his talk with the media.
It’s that time of year, but Branch is just happy to be back.
He started training camp on the non-football injury list and made his camp debut on Monday. Though he was in full pads, he wasn’t a full participant and retreated to a separate training field for part of practice before coming back to the main field.
“You can’t get better on the field without being on the field,” Branch said. “So, going out there, strapping up, and warming up the pads, that’s probably the best and most important thing for me right now.”
Branch didn’t go into the specifics of why he was on the non-football injury list. New England picked him up last October after the Bills released him in August. He tallied 21 tackles for the Patriots in 11 games, including the playoffs. Branch made two starts — against the Jets and Bills in December.
In March, Branch was signed to a two-year contract worth a maximum of $6.6 million.
Then, in late May and early June, Branch wasn’t spotted at organized team activities — at least for the three practices that were open to media. He later said that was for personal reasons.
Branch made his return for minicamp in June, before the team broke for the summer break. When the team reconvened for training camp, Branch said it was tough not being able to take part in practice.
“It’s pretty rough,” Branch said. “You want to go out there and go through the calls with your teammates and you want to show them that they [can] have trust in you, knowing your playbook and knowing what you’re supposed to do out there.”
A nine-year veteran out of Michigan, the 6-foot-6-inch, 350-pound Branch could play an important role up front with Vince Wilfork now in Houston. He’s shown that he can be a regular starter. He started in 44 of the 47 games he played in 2011 and 2012 with the Seahawks and in 2013 with the Bills.
Branch had a combined 102 tackles those three years.
Plus, for young players on the line such as rookie Malcom Brown and the second-year Dominique Easley, Branch is a resource. Brown also returned to the field Monday after missing Saturday’s practice.
“Those two, I talked to them about their game,” Branch said. “All of [the young players] seem great. I mean, they got great technique as it is. So I’m not one to talk about it.”
With his limited action on Monday, it’s unclear what kind of role Branch will have in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Packers.
But you can bet on one thing: Branch is going to have fun.
“I look forward to every week in football,” Branch said. “I really enjoy the game. And, it doesn’t matter who you line up out there, I’m going to have a good time playing with my teammates and having a ball.”
Wayne Epps Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.