When the Patriots made final cuts on the last day of August, few were shocked by the release of veteran linebacker Niko Koutouvides. Wide receiver Deion Branch's axing, however, was another story.
But just two and a half weeks later, both players are back in the Patriots locker room, and no one who follows this team closely seems to be surprised by that. In fact, the handwriting wasn't on the wall, per se, but above their locker stalls. The team kept both Branch's and Koutouvides' lockers intact since their departure. It only seemed like a matter of time and/or need at their respective positions before either or both would be back.
It just so happened they did so on the same day. Joining them was tight end Kellen Winslow. The latter made a couple of cameos in the locker room earlier today, but turned down media interview requests, saying he just had too much on his plate on his first day on the job.
The other two, however – more familiar with the system obviously – graciously and willingly stopped for long chats before getting back to business.
Both Branch and Koutouvides were asked if they expected to get a call back from head coach Bill Belichick, and both replied, "You never know," even though Koutouvides acknowledged that he'd been told of his preserved locker. Branch wouldn't say whether he had an agreement in place with the team when he left, but he conceded that he chose to come back here and turned down other offers.
"I always had to weigh my options," explained Branch. "That's what I'm going to do first and foremost, weigh my options for my family and myself. But to get the call, besides some of the other calls, I think this was more important here."
Both players also indicated that they kept tabs on the Patriots over the first two weeks of the regular season.
"I watched the first game, and caught the second half of the second game," he continued. "When you have kids, there ain't too much free time."
Koutouvides, a Connecticut native, wasn't far away and said his focus wasn't on waiting by the phone, but on keeping himself fit for when that call eventually came.
"Just happy to be back here as a Patriot," he added. "I'm a big fan of not only my teammates, but a Patriot fan. So, the first game, we had it [on TV] in Connecticut, but this last one [against Arizona] wasn't. So, I had to go down to a local bar to watch the game."
Did anyone at the Wood-n-Tap in Farmington, Conn. recognize him?
"No," he laughed, "but it was flooded with Patriot fans in there. I tell you what, they get a little rowdy and have fun. It was a pretty fun atmosphere."
Koutouvides is having even more fun today, though, being part of the Patriots again. Ditto for Branch. How much they're involved in this week's game plan for the Baltimore Ravens remains to be seen, but both players shouldn't need much time to get back up to speed on their playbooks.
"I think so," Koutouvides agreed. "Have to work a lot, get the game plan, study, get ready to start putting the pads back on, but last year, I was out for six, seven weeks, which is a little different. This time around, it's only been two weeks."
"I'm going to do whatever they ask of me," stated Branch, "whether that be special teams, offense, defense, I'm going to do that. As far as within the offense, that comes with the game plan."
Branch and Koutouvides, as well as Winslow, were on the field in uniform with the rest of the Patriots this afternoon. Branch was in his old 84 jersey, while Koutouvides donned the 90 he'd worn here before. Winslow was assigned 82.
For details about today's Patriots practice and more locker room tidbits, please visit the PFW blog.