By: Ian Logue/
August 12, 2002

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SMITHFIELD, RI -- If you could judge a player by one preseason game, Saturday night's contest against the Giants could have fans in Patriot Nation anointing Branch as the team's new big play receiver.

Eight catches for 129-yards including a 62-yard reception on the first play of the game has certainly vaulted him into the spotlight, and his performance has many wondering where this will leave teammate David Patten by the time the team takes the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Season opener.

Patten started 14 of 16 games last season, and finished with 51 catches for 749 yards and 4 touchdowns.  He was instrumental down the stretch for the Pats in 2001, scoring two of the only three offensive touchdowns the team was able to score during the postseason.  Free agent acquisition Donald Hayes was brought in as a big tall physical target for Tom Brady to throw to, and fans got a look at how valuable he may be inside the red zone after making a leaping catch from 4-yards out in the corner of the endzone.

The exact same play that Patten made twice during the post season.

Troy Brown's value is understood.  On third down, he will make the play.  Punt him the football, and there's a good chance he'll be in the endzone when the play is over.  When he was used as a kickoff return man, the Pats often started their drive at or near midfield.

Needless to say Brown doesn't need to worry about job security or playing time.

The problem is with their plethora of tight ends, the Patriots showed several two tight end sets with only one or two receivers in the game, which is going to leave someone on the sidelines.   Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, and Bert Emanual were three veteran receivers who were forgotten men after being released during the season last year.  Patten and Hayes aren't going anywhere, but depending on their level of play it's very possible that neither will be on the field as often as they may be happy with if Branch's great play continues.  Fans may have also gotten a look at an empty backfield with four and five wide receiver sets on Saturday night, but given Belichick's history of running the football and running a ball control type of offense it's doubtful that they'll see that very often.

Regardless of the fact that it's still too early to make a final evaluation, the Patriots still appear to have something they haven't had in a while, and that is a stable of very good receivers.  The only question that remains is what the order on the depth chart will be by the time the team opens the season next month.

Either way there appears to be a new kid on the block.

Many feel he resembles Troy Brown.  Now we'll wait and see if he'll be lining up with him in September.