How a suspension for DT Alan Branch could impact Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch is facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Branch plans to appeal and the suspension, thus any discipline he faces will not be served until after the appeal.
What it means. Branch has arguably been the team's best "big" defensive tackle this season. He has played 61 percent of the defensive snaps, up from 39.6 percent in 2015, which reflects how the defense has relied on him more this season. He has been a starter next to 2015 first-round draft choice Malcom Brown, providing size (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) and power inside.
How he's used. In the majority of games, the Patriots play two "big" defensive tackles side by side in either their base or nickel package. Their primary responsibility is to be stout against the run, even when the box is lighter number-wise in nickel, while pushing the pocket against the pass. When the defenses forces an obvious passing situation on third down, the "big" defensive tackles usually are subbed off the field in favor of a lighter, quicker defensive tackle or a defensive end who reduces inside.
Under-the-radar way this could hurt. Branch's physical condition is obviously in a good place for him to play 61 percent of the snaps, which is something coach Bill Belichick recently noted. But if Branch has to serve a four-game suspension, it could stunt his momentum in that area. The last two years, Branch has opened training camp on the physically unable to perform/non-football injury list, which reflects how he wasn't physically ready to practice until spending some time at the facility under the guidance of the Patriots staff. Four weeks away during the season would put the onus on him to stay in good condition on his own and then attempt to pick up where he left off upon his return.
Who steps in? The top candidate to fill Branch's void is third-round draft choice Vincent Valentine of Nebraska. The 6-foot-2, 320-pound Valentine is the No. 3 player in the three-man rotation utilized by the club, and he showed up Sunday against the 49ers with a notable tackle for a loss. The team also has undrafted free agent Woodrow Hamilton of Ole Miss on the depth chart in the No. 4 spot. The team opened the season with just three "big" defensive tackles before later promoting Hamilton to the active roster, so it's possible that the club doesn't sign a free agent to fill Branch's potential void (if the appeal is rejected). The Patriots most often dress just three "big" defensive tackles on game day.
This is from by Mike ReissESPN Staff Writer