DAVIE — Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills’ idea of downtime is heading to the beach, where he’ll do some workouts. Safety Reshad Jones is looking forward to relaxing. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke is going hiking in Uganda amid gorillas.
Defensive end Andre Branch has a few wild ideas about vacation time.
“MMA training three times a week, strength training five times a week, boxing four times a week,” Branch said. “ … PT (physical therapy) twice a week. A chiropractor three times a week. Pilates three times a week and yoga twice a week. Steam room every day.”
What’s that leave? At least he takes Sundays off.
It’s all part of Branch’s idea of gearing up for fall Sundays. At 263 pounds, he’ll line up against offensive linemen who outweigh him by 50-odd pounds, which means Branch has to find creative ways to give himself a fighting chance.
“I’m going against a guy who’s bigger and stronger than me every play,” Branch said. “So hand speed and leverage, that’s where the MMA comes in. Just knowing your body and knowing what position you can put your body in – no matter how big or strong they are – you being able to just leverage them and get them off of you.”
After breaking into the league with a quiet 2012 season as a second-round pick of Jacksonville, he decided he wasn’t doing enough to improve. So little by little, the letters R&R were replaced by PT and MMA.
Using the cold tub required a plunge.
“I didn’t think it worked, because I just thought it was freezing me,” he said. “But it definitely works.”
Diet? It’s doubtful anyone on the team could match Cameron Wake’s legendary strict intake, but Branch sounds emphatic about that, too.
“I have a chef that I eat very, very healthy,” he said. “I only drink water and coconut water.”
It’s paying off for Branch, who will be 28 when the season starts. He had a career-high 49 tackles last season and 5.5 sacks. Although it was questionable whether the Dolphins could afford to bring him back via free agency, he was rewarded with a three-year deal reportedly worth $24 million to $27 million (estimates vary).
Most importantly, after the Dolphins switched to Branch and Wake as their top ends last season, they went 9-2.
That afforded Branch enough stripes on his sleeve to speak out when the season ended, bluntly saying some teammates weren’t doing their job, which cost the team dearly in poor run defense.
This spring and summer, Branch said there’s “no question” things have improved, although more will be clear once players don pads. Branch said he didn’t hear any resistance in the locker room because of his comments. Maybe that’s because, on a defense ranked 30th in the league against the run, nobody had a valid argument.
“I think we all have one voice,” Branch said. “We speak for each other. There is no one bigger than the defense, bigger than the team. If one person says it, we all agree on it. We know we have to improve on that and that’s an emphasis that we put on this offseason and we’re getting better each and every day.”
Minicamp wraps up Thursday. After that, everybody is free until training camp opens. If you want to find Branch, check in the gym. Just don’t get the wrong idea.
“I’m not about to, after I retire, be an MMA fighter by any means,” he said. “But it helps me on the field and that regimen I have — like you guys said, I have to be that emotional guy. For me, I have to play at a high level and also talk the entire game and not come out of the game. That type of regimen, I have to do that in order to do what the team asks of me.”
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