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New England Patriots roster breakdown: #97 DT Alan Branch

After another good year, Branch will return as a core member of the interior defensive line.

Divisional Playoffs - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The New England Patriots‘ 2016 training camp is underway. Players fight for practice repetitions and playing time to earn one of the 53 spots on the roster. They have until late August, when each team has to start making its roster cuts, to secure a role.

Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with defensive tackle Alan Branch.

Name: Alan Branch

Position: Defensive tackle

Jersey number: 97

Age: 31

Experience: 9

Size: 6’6, 350 lbs.

2015 review: Following their Super Bowl XLIX victory and two days into free agency, the Patriots re-signed Alan Branch to a 2-year, $6.6 million contract. The veteran went on to become New England’s number two defensive tackle in terms of playing time – playing 505 of a possible 1,249 snaps (40.4%) – and arguably number one in terms of consistent performance.

Branch appeared in all 18 of the Patriots’ 2015 games as the starter alongside first-round rookie Malcom Brown. The behemoth defensive tackle finished the year with 41 tackles, nine of which run stuffs. He did not only play well against the run, but was also a good pass defender. Branch registered 2.0 sacks, two quarterback hits and three pressures, while adding two forced fumbles and two pass breakups.

In short: the veteran was once again a valuable member of New England’s defense. Therefore, it was no surprise to see the team pick up the second-year option of his contract to ensure that Branch would stay in Foxboro for another year.

2016 preview: Picking up the contract option does not guarantee that Branch will be on the Patriots’ 2016 roster. However, he is as close to a lock to join Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine – plus probably Terrance Knighton – as the team’s defensive tackles as there is. After all, he has the athletic abilities and the familiarity with New England’s scheme to highly likely beat out any possible contestants for his roster spot.

Therefore, Branch is projected to return as the team’s starter alongside Brown, and one of its most heavily used defensive tackles. While the acquisitions of Knighton and Valentine might ultimately decrease his overall snap numbers, he is still projected to play around 35% of the team’s defensive snaps as a player whose skill-set allows him to be successful on three downs.

Even though Branch skipped voluntary offseason workouts (just like last year) and started training camp on the Non-Football Injury list (just like last year), he will likely play a key role on New England’s defensive line in 2016. Just like last year.

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Alan Branch has quietly been a really good acquisition since he joined the Patriots as a free agent in October 2014. The 31-year old has developed into a steady and productive member of New England’s defense and is expected to continue serving in this capacity in 2016 as well.