Former Alabama defensive back Brian Branch hopes to follow in Minkah Fitzpatrick’s footsteps in the NFL. In fact, depending on how the NFL Draft goes next month, he wouldn’t mind joining the Crimson Tide standout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about, having visions when I’m sleeping,” Branch told reporters at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis when asked about the possibility of teaming up with Fitzpatrick at the top level. “Just being able to play alongside a player like him is important to me.”
Since being selected No. 11 overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 2018 NFL Draft, Fitzpatrick has earned first-team All-Pro honors three times. Last season, he tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions and 11 pass deflections.
While Branch and Fitzpatrick never played together in Alabama, the two excelled at the star job for the Crimson Tide.
Fitzpatrick has moved into mostly a deep safety role for the Steelers, but is still capable of playing in the box. On Thursday, Branch said he compared his game to former award winner Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe, saying he thought he could bring similar versatility to the next level.
“I love his game,” Branch said. “The way he’s able to play all positions at fullback and do it at a high level, I think I was able to do that in Alabama.”
Branch told NFL teams he felt comfortable playing anywhere in the high school and said he thought his versatility was one of his biggest selling points heading into the draft. Of course, last year’s production won’t hurt his draft stock either.
The 6-foot, 193-pound defensive back is coming off a stellar junior season in which he led the team with two interceptions while finishing second with 14 tackles for a loss, just three behind the projected top-five pick Will Anderson Jr. Branch also ranked third on the team with 90 total tackles and led all college defensemen with a 91.8 rating, according to Pro Football Focus.
“When I take the field, it’s almost like I’m allowed to release some kind of anger that’s a legal anger that I can’t do on a daily basis,” Branch said. “When I get on the pitch and I’m able to make contact, it allows me to express myself and really have fun.”
Branch said he’s already had several official talks with NFL teams while attending this week’s NFL Combine. That includes Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, whom he met on Monday.
“Coach Mike Tomlin is definitely a player coach,” Branch said. “I like that about him. He connects with his players.
The branch is currently expected to be selected in the middle of the first round of next month’s draft. For what it’s worth. Pittsburgh holds the 17th overall pick.
Pittsburgh holds the 17th pick in the first round of next year’s draft.
NFL scouts will have to wait a little longer if they want to see former Alabama cornerback Eli Ricks participate in defensive drills.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound cornerback said Thursday that an injury will prevent him from participating in the 2023 NFL Combine drills.
“Unfortunately, I’m not doing anything at the Combine,” Ricks said. “I have a grade 2 strain (hamstring) that I’m shaking about. But on the pro day I’ll do anything, and I expect to surprise a lot of people, to be honest. I’ve seen some of the projections of my race and stuff like that, so I think I’m going to surprise some people.”
Ricks said he will be meeting teams again this week.
The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., native has played in nine of Alabama’s 13 games this season. Due to a labrum injury he suffered at LSU, Ricks started the year as a backup to Terrion Arnold.
After touring the first four games and sitting out the next three, Ricks got his first start since 2020 when he played against Kool-Aid McKinstry against Mississippi State.
He would go on to start in five of the last six games, including Alabama’s Sugar Bowl victory, totaling 13 total tackles, one tackle for loss, and four pass breakups.
Although Ricks admitted that it took him a while to get back into football shape, he noted that transitioning from LSU to Alabama and learning a different defense should help him adapt to the NFL.
“I know the things I have to work on myself. I know my footwork and my press technique because when I get to the NFL I’m going to have to learn some new techniques,” Ricks said. “The technique was different from LSU to Bama, so I know when I go to the NFL, I’m going to have to learn even more wherever I go.”
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