Defensive lineman Alan Branch moves in for a tackle during Sunday's victory in Jacksonville.
Going into training camp, Alan Branch wasn't assured of even making the roster.
Now, he is – slowly – turning into a key piece of the Cardinals' defensive line.
Playing both end and nose tackle in the Cards' 3-4 looks, Branch has played well enough that coach Ken Whisenhunt went back to the analogy he first used for Branch back in training camp of 2008, when he compared Branch to a flickering light bulb.
Now, "the light has stayed on a little bit more, a little bit longer," Whisenhunt said. "The combination of playing some end has gotten him excited, he's down a little bit in weight, which helps, and he has made some plays. The way he was running around Sunday, it was exciting to see. It gives you indications of why we have been frustrated with him a little bit because we see things now he can do, which is why we drafted him."
The 2007 second-round pick had been thought of as a bust. But he said at the end of the preseason he enjoyed playing end, which helped his enthusiasm. He's also got another year left on his contract after this one, meaning the Cardinals still have some time to decide if Branch has truly figured it out or if this is only temporary hope.
If Branch can continue to contribute, however, the Cards may yet get big value from such a high draft choice.
"He will always be able to (play both positions), which has great value especially with the things we have done defensively," Whisenhunt said. "If you have a guy who can hold the middle but also hold up at end, that guy is a tough guy to handle."
BEANIE HANGING ON
Wednesday, rookie running back Beanie Wells proudly showed off the ball he has carried around the facility this week, the one with his name and number neatly scrawled on it. All week, Whisenhunt has watched his rookie hold on to it.
"He's gotten a lot of attempts in the building with people trying to get it out," Whisenhunt said with a smile.
Wells said it's strictly an inside thing – "To the locker room, to meetings," he said – and shook his head when asked about other spots. "No," Wells said, "not the grocery store."
If a teammate knocks it loose, Wells is supposed to ante up $200 for charity. Whisenhunt said as far as he knows, Wells hasn't had to pay yet. The coach is hoping Wells can continue that effort.
"I like what I see from him with what he is doing at practice," Whisenhunt said. "He's keeping it high and tight like we talked about. But it remains to been seen if he can do it in a game."
BREASTON, OKEAFOR RETURN – BUT INJURY LIST GROWS
WR Steve Breaston (knee) and LB Chike Okeafor (shoulder) each returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday, while the already large injury list of the Cards actually grew by two more players.
LB Will Davis (knee) and CB Bryant McFadden (groin) were each added to the list, although each practiced fully and are not expected to be out Sunday. In fact, nine of the 15 players on the injury report practiced fully. DE Kenny Iwebema (ankle) and LB Ali Highsmith (hamstring) each sat out, while S Matt Ware (shoulder) and T Levi Brown (ankle) remain limited.
For the Colts, Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders (knee) is still not practicing and is expected to miss the game, while star pass rusher Dwight Freeney (back) sat out, although Freeney is expected to be able to play.
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