Chemistry lesson: Belichick, Branch describe art of QB/receiver relationship

by: Christopher Price on Thu, 01/12/2012 - 7:31pm

FOXBORO -- If you are putting together a list of Bill Belichick’s football-related regrets, trading Deion Branch in 2006 is probably near the top of the list.

Since Tom Brady took over as the Patriots starter in 2001, he’s been blessed with several dependable pass catchers, but few receivers have been able to mesh with quarterback Tom Brady like Branch. The two have a unique chemistry, an ability to know what the other is thinking and what the other needs.

Since Branch returned to New England from football exile last October, he has been able to pick right back up with Brady, making a near seamless transition that has allowed the New England passing game to continue on a near-record pace over the last year-plus.

On Thursday before practice, Belichick talked about Branch, his ability to connect with the quarterback and ability to read a defense and adjust his route accordingly, giving Brady an open and available target.

“Branch is great at that. He’s great at that, as was Troy (Brown), as was Kevin (Faulk), as was Randy (Moss),” Belichick said. “Those guys just knew where they could go, how long they had to get there and how to do it. And 99 percent of the time, if as a coach, you said, ‘This is the situation, and this is what we want you to do,’ that’s what they would do.”

Branch said that extended reps between the quarterback and the wide receiver and time together in the meeting room is a big part of it.

“Then, once we get on the practice field, I think that’s when the reps come in as far as working with Tom on different looks, different things that we talked about in the meeting room,” Branch said. “Tom always puts guys in certain positions to make the plays, does certain things with the front line. It’s just not only me; this guy works with the front line all the time with doing certain things to better our offense, to better our team.

“If you have a group of guys working with a quarterback from time-to-time on everything then you’ll get great production. If guys think you just throw it out on the football field, that won’t happen. It’s going to take time; it takes a lot of work, a lot of work.”

According to Brown, who played with Brady from 2000 through 2007, the secret is being able to work on the relationship with thousands of reps together over the course of several seasons.

“It really just came down to reps, and doing things over and over again,” Brown said. “We would do things in practice over and over, and as a group, we would talk and watch film and communicate. It was all about getting on the same page with your quarterback. Tom would always talk about what he needed and where he needed us to be at certain times. Those are the kind of things you need to do.

“We would get thousands of reps, all the time in the offseason. We’d work together on walkthroughs and discuss what he needed on a certain route. He would tell you things like, ‘You should be here,’ or, ‘I don’t want you to look up until the ball is in the air.’ Those are the type of things we would discuss.”

It’s not just on the wide receiver to get it right. Communication between a wide receiver and quarterback is a two-way street.

“Tom did a great job reading the guys body language,” Brown said. “He would know things about their receivers that other quarterbacks don’t know. He’d know for certain when I was getting ready to come out of my break, whether I was going to break inside or outside. Some of the fakes are so good, Tom learned to read our body language and hold the ball until it was time. He knew exactly what we were going to do on any given route.”

“Tom is a perfectionist,” Branch said. “He may say in practice, ‘Deion, I want you at six yards (on a certain pattern)’ or “I want you to be here on this slant.’ We all work on these plays a lot to get confident that the guys will be in the places they need to be.”

Some of the same elements we saw five to 10 years ago with Brady and Faulk, Branch, Moss and Brown are now in play when it comes to Brady’s working relationship with the two young tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. However, Belichick said Thursday that they still have a ways to go to try and match Branch.

“Deion and Kevin and Troy, and Randy in a lot of ways, I would put those guys at an exceptional level, I mean rare,” Belichick said. “I would say Rob and Aaron, they’re young. They’re not at the same point of their career as we’re talking about those other guys. Could they get there? Possibly, possibly. They’ve really, compared to last year, both of them are so far ahead of where they were last year at doing those kind of things. You just don’t know where it’s going to stop. Is it going to keep going or at some point is it going to level off? When does it become too much?

“Definitely learning and learning fast. Do they have some of it? Yes. From what I’ve seen, there’s still a lot of things they can do better and they’re doing a lot of things well.”