Teams usually talk up their rookies after the draft to the point of eroding credibility. The way they tell it, there's nothing the player can't accomplish. That's why the honesty and sincere praise in Jacksonville Jaguars defensive line coach Joe Cullen's comments about second-round pick defensive end Andre Branch stood out.
John Oehser from the Jaguars official site rattled off a laundry list of things Cullen liked about Branch when the Jaguars took him from his motor to his arm length. Surprisingly, Cullen learned that Branch was even better than he thought when he got the chance to start working with him.
Cullen praised Branch's work ethic, reaction to hard coaching, and constant improvement. He also resisted the idea that Branch is weak against the run:
Stopping the run is coaching and technique. I know some people out there said that might be a weakness, but I haven’t seen that. He can set the edge. I only think that will get better.
Oehser and Jacksonville.com writer Gene Frenette both bring up the death of Branch's grandfather, Orlandus, as a turning point in his career. Marion Hobby, his defensive line coach at Clemson, believes that event was the turning point in Branch's approach to football.
Branch's hard work and dedication could be rewarded quickly, as the spot opposite Jeremy Mincey at defensive end is wide open. Cullen believes Branch will be a situational pass-rusher right away, and he could earn a starting job. Right now, Austen Lane is lining up there while free-agent bust Aaron Kampman is still sidelined.
According to his position coach, Branch is already exceeding expectations and showing he can be an every-down defensive end. If he keeps it up through camp and the preseason, AFC South offensive tackles could be finding out that Branch is better than they thought, too.