- Graham Bensinger, Contributing Writer, ESPN.com
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Graham Bensinger will interview a high-profile prospect each week until the NFL draft April 28. This week, he checks in with Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch.
Graham Bensinger: I understand part of your reasoning for entering the NFL draft a year early is because you're a competitor and want to play against the best talent, but what else went into the decision?
Alan Branch: It was a combination of a lot of things. Do I feel like passing up this opportunity that's right in front of me? Who knows what could happen next year. I would kick myself forever if I didn't take advantage of this opportunity and something happened next year. I'm not going to lie; obviously, the money had something to do with it. It mainly had to do with competition because I just like playing with the best, really. Once I play against the best, the best player in me comes out.
Bensinger: When did you first consider leaving? When did the thought first cross your mind?
Branch: At the beginning of the season, I heard that I had the opportunity to do it, but I didn't really believe it. Honestly, I didn't know if I was that good yet. I didn't actually start considering it until after the Ohio State game. That was the last game of the regular season for us.
Bensinger: Who did you talk to before finalizing the decision?
Branch: It was a decision that I made with my parents. I talked to all of my coaches including [head]coach [Lloyd] Carr and [defensive coordinator Ron] English. Everyone had great input about it. I thought I made a great decision with the information that I had.
Bensinger: Lloyd Carr expected that you'd make that decision. When you went in to inform him that was indeed your choice, what'd he say?
Branch: He had that smirk. Coach Carr always has a smirk when he kind of knows what is going on already. He said, "I can't really sit here and be mad or say that you're making the wrong choice because you have a great opportunity ahead of you. You're a great football player." I thanked him for all that he's done for me. He thanked me for doing everything that I've done at Michigan.
Bensinger: Chad Henne, Shawn Crable, Mike Hart and Jake Long are all coming back. How much more enticing did that make returning to college for your senior season?
Branch: That's what the debate with myself was over. During my freshman year, Mike [Hart], Jamar Adams and I talked about how we were going to win the championship and be a great team our senior year. I really wanted to be a part of that with those guys, but at the same time, I've also wanted to play in the NFL all of my life.
Bensinger: You're good friends with Hart. When you informed him of your decision, how'd he respond?
Branch: He was 100 percent behind me. He's a good guy. He just wished me good luck. He didn't say anything negative at all because he knew the opportunity that I had.
Bensinger: The aspect of your game that you're most proud of would be what?
Branch: I'm just an all-around athlete. You don't usually see a big guy like me that's quick with his feet and hands. I'm most proud of my all-around athleticism. A lot of the big guys are just clumsy and I'm not clumsy at all.
Bensinger: The best and worst part of being 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds.
Branch: [laughs] The worst part is not being able to get on any roller coasters when I go to amusement parks! I'm a little kid. I love going to amusement parks and things like that. I can't get on the roller coasters!
Bensinger: Come on ... [laughs]
Branch: We went to Disneyland in L.A. for the Rose Bowl. I was only able to go on like three roller coasters.
Bensinger: Why couldn't you go on the others?
Branch: I'll get to the front of the line and they'll say, "You can go on there." I'll ask if they're sure and they'll say that they've seen plenty of people my size get on. See, the thing is, they've seen guys as wide as me but shorter go on or guys as tall but skinnier. I'm both! I'm huge. When I go on, my hips are touching each side. I got the high knees plus my thighs are like 34 inches around! A lot of times the belt doesn't come down on me.
Bensinger: Well, I can understand why. You've got 34-inch thighs! So let's hear the best part ...
Branch: My size commands a lot of respect. Guys look for leadership and someone who has those qualities. If you're a big guy, articulate, and a good person, a lot of people will ultimately respect you as a leader.
Bensinger: You play a variety of positions. Which do you like the most?
Branch: I like defensive end the most because a lot of times it's one-on-one blocking. It's only you and the tackle on passing situations. When you're an inside tackle, you can get blocked down from anywhere.
Bensinger: When you meet with a team, would that question come up?
Branch: They ask me what position I'm most comfortable with. I'm most comfortable with the inside tackle technique. There aren't too many teams looking at me as a defensive end.
Bensinger: Would you like teams to give you more consideration as a defensive end?
Branch: Shoot, they can put me anywhere on the line and I'll be happy to play! I just want to get in there and show what I got.
Bensinger: How was your combine experience?
Branch: It was a mental thing. You had to be in certain places at a certain time. I was training in Arizona and the combine was in Indianapolis, so I was two hours behind. We had to wake up at 6 a.m. in Indianapolis and that's really 4 a.m. in Arizona. My body wasn't used to that. It was kind of tough from that aspect. I'd have to sit down for an hour and a half, then rush from this station to that station. Two hours you're busy and then the next two hours you're sitting there doing nothing. It's a huge mind game.
Bensinger: You get very few hours of sleep and you're expected to perform at your best.
Branch: They do it on purpose. They want to see how you're going to face difficult situations.
Bensinger: I heard you had a fun pro day. Chiefs' defensive line coach Tim Krumrie worked you out. What do you think of him?
Branch: (laughs) He's a funny, cool guy, but I didn't know what I was getting into (laughs). He knows what he's doing. He knows how to wear guys out. My whole thing was trying not to show that I was tired, even though everybody knew that I was. But I didn't hunch over once. I didn't bend at the waist or put my hands to my knees. I was trying to show that no matter how tired I am, you aren't going to get me to quit.
Bensinger: Tell me about the one-on-one slap fights he was doing.
Branch: Krumrie would grab your shoulders and you had to do something to get his hands off. He's a strong guy. He's a tough guy. It wasn't easy!
Bensinger: Some people afterwards said that you appeared out of shape. What do you say to that?
Branch: I laugh at them and tell them to try doing that with Krumrie! It's impossible to do that drill with somebody and not get tired. They can say I got tired fast, but doing that strenuous activity with someone that strong -- you're going to get tired. If I had known what we were going to do, I would have been able to do a little better.
Bensinger: What did Krumrie say to you afterwards?
Branch: He and a lot of the other coaches said I did a good job. I just laugh about the scouts saying that stuff -- out of shape and became tired quickly. It's just funny to me.
Bensinger: How do you handle the critics, hype and speculation?
Branch: I listen with open ears. I laugh at all the rumors going around. It's like high school. I hear what they are saying, but I'm not going to let it affect me. A lot of times people that talk really don't even know the game. They've seen tape of me which will do more talking than the drills. The whole thing with Krumrie was trying to show your toughness with all of the scouts looking.
Bensinger: Gaines Adams said he liked working out at the Athletes' Performance Institute [API] in Tempe because he could get away from the hype that surrounded him at home. Joe Thomas was the polar opposite. He stayed in Wisconsin for a sense of normalcy and thought that if he went to Tempe he'd have to constantly deal with the draft. What do you think?
Branch: I don't care wherever I'm at. Most of the time, I will just hang out at my apartment. I will go work out and then come right back. I don't really see the hype. I could be anywhere and it wouldn't bug me.
Bensinger: How was API?
Branch: API was great. I learned a lot about core muscles, techniques, running and lifting. We focused on all of the drills that we did at the Combine.
Bensinger: How have your meetings been with teams?
Branch: I've only had one and it was fine. I met with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' GM Bruce Allen. I thought that was a good meeting.
Bensinger: What did you guys talk about?
Branch: He was asking me about what type of person I was and things like that. He was really just trying to feel me out.
Bensinger: What question that you have been asked has most surprised you?
Branch: The question that made me laugh the most is when they ask if you like football! [laughs] I think that's an obvious answer ... Why would you be playing if you don't like football?!
Bensinger: Getting antsy?
Branch: I've never gone this long without doing anything at all regarding football. I would love to play anywhere. I just want to put some pads on and play!
Graham Bensinger is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Visit his web site at: TheGBShow.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com
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