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A quality piece of Hawks' puzzle
Seattle Times staff columnist
KIRKLAND — The first thing Deion Branch did at Tuesday's news conference was thank his former team, former owner, former fans and former teammates.
He made sure everyone in the room and everyone in the city knew that nothing in his long summer holdout from the New England Patriots was personal.
Dressed for success in a dark business suit, Branch came across sober and serious and itching to get on the football field.
This isn't some malcontent who is all about his money and his numbers. He isn't a guy who comes back to the huddle grousing about not seeing the ball. He won't show up his coach on TV, or his quarterback on the sideline.
Deion Branch, the newest Seahawks wide receiver, the MVP of the 2005 Super Bowl, is the anti-T.O., the anti-Keyshawn Johnson, the anti-Koren Robinson.
He's a playmaker, not a troublemaker. He makes his catches, he gets his numbers, without demanding his numbers.
He is one of the top 12 receivers in the game, and he's now a Seahawk who fits perfectly into general manager Tim Ruskell's character-first philosophy of team building.
"He's one of the best kids I've ever coached, not only from an athletic standpoint and what he does on the field — that speaks for itself," said John L. Smith, who was Branch's college coach at Louisville and now is the coach at Michigan State. "You run across guys like that, guys who every day they smile on the field and every day they get better."
Forget the opening-day aberration in Detroit; the Seahawks' offense remains one of the best in football, and Branch makes it even better.
He is another deep, speed threat who can take the attention off Nate Burleson in Seattle the same way Randy Moss did for Burleson in Minnesota. Burleson caught 68 passes and had nine touchdown receptions two seasons ago, running with Moss.
"This team has everything," Branch said.
Branch didn't swagger into town this week proclaiming himself the Seahawks' savior. He didn't make outlandish, Terrell Owens-like predictions. He was so low-keyed, so unassuming, you almost felt as if you should re-check his statistics.
Yes, he did catch 78 passes last season. Yes, he did make the difference in New England's Super Bowl win over Philadelphia two seasons ago, catching 11 balls. Yes, he does have two Super Bowl rings.
But no, he's not impressed with himself or his stat line.
"Just because you're financially set doesn't mean that you can kick back now," he said. "Now is the time for me to really go out and show the organization, show the community, 'OK, this guy really deserves the money he's earned.' This is the organization that has given me the opportunity and I'm going to capitalize on it."
A lot of high-profile receivers come to their new team and declare themselves the answer to all of their franchise's questions. They don't believe they're a piece of the puzzle. They believe they're every piece in the puzzle.
(See Randy Moss in Oakland.)
Branch, just entering his prime at 27, is different that way.
"I think coach [Mike] Holmgren has done a great job of using each and every asset he has on this team," Branch said. "And I'm just here to accept my role and just roll with it. My job is for me to come in, learn his game plan. Get the system down first and foremost. Start getting acclimated with the guys on the team and then go from there.
"I hope everyone's not looking at me, like, 'Hey, this guy's the next thing that's going to get us going.' I'm just here to contribute to a major role and also to help this team get over this hump that it's striving to get over."
These are the players a winning franchise acquires in its search for illusive glory. Instead of thinking that there was no way New England would give up on Branch, Ruskell persevered. When others thought this deal was dead, Ruskell kept it alive.
And, at six years and $39 million, with $13 million guaranteed in the first year, Branch's contract practically is a steal.
"I can't wait," Branch said of getting to his first practice today. "This is what I do. I'm a football player. I'm going to go out and prepare myself to get ready to play. And then that's going to be coach Holmgren's decision."
The Seahawks didn't pay Branch to stand on the sideline. He will play early and often this season. He is another difference-maker for a franchise that continues to show it knows how to make a difference.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company