With New England Patriots training camp opening today, one player will be starting it off just like he did last year: Defensive tackle Alan Branch. Yesterday, Branch was placed on the non-football injury (NFI) list, reportedly because of a minor hip ailment that impeded him from doing conditioning tests. Like the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, Branch can be removed from the NFI list at any time. The distinction here is that the NFI list is used when an injury occurred outside of the team's control.
While it doesn't sound serious, it could affect his standing on the depth chart--with second-year Malcolm Brown firmly entrenched at one DT spot, all indications were that Branch and newcomer Terrance Knighton would battle it out during camp for the chance to win the other starting job. And while Branch opened on the NFI list last year and ended up with two sacks, two forced fumbles, two QB hits, three hurries, and two batted passes in a strong season overall, Knighton is coming off a good performance last year as well. Though his impact isn't as noticeable on the stat sheet, in Washington he routinely took on double-teams and helped free up lanes for other defenders, yet still accumulated 1.5 sacks himself. With Knighton taking more reps early in camp, Branch will have to come back with a vengeance if he hopes to win a starting role.
Photo courtesy ESPN
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