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 FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -Alan Branch, all 6-foot-5, 324 pounds of him, makes an impression on most people just by entering a room.
Impressing the Arizona Cardinals' coaches is a far more difficult challenge, but so far, so good for the rookie nose tackle from Michigan.
Branch played a little more than half of Arizona's preseason opener last weekend at Oakland, and, for the most part, coach Ken Whisenhunt liked what he saw.
``There were still some things where he was not as good as he can be, just because he's a young player, but I see improvement,'' Whisenhunt said on Tuesday. ``I see desire for him to be good, and some of those things showed up in the game.''
Branch, the first pick in the second round of the draft, bolstered what already was a strong self-confidence.
``I was able to see what other players in the league are like other than my own teammates,'' he said. ``It really reassured me that I'm supposed to be here and that I do have the talent and technique to keep up with these guys, and maybe even dominate later on.''
Several friends and family members have made the 6 1/2-hour drive from his hometown of Rio Rancho, N.M., to watch Branch work out at training camp. They cheered him on in his competition with second-year pro Gabe Watson for the starting job.
Watson is listed as the starter, but Branch wants that to be a short-term situation.
``I can't call myself a competitor and go out there and expect to be second team,'' Branch said. ``I'm working my hardest to try to get first team and so is he. Honestly, if both of us are doing that, we're just going to get better.''
Branch was forecast by many to be a first-round pick. When he was still available when the second round began, the Cardinals gave up a fourth-round pick to trade up five spots and get him with the 33rd selection overall.
``We moved up to get him because we felt very strongly about him,'' Whisenhunt said. ``It's always good to see somebody come out and do some of the things he's done, especially early. There's still a long ways to go, but I'm very encouraged.''
At first, Branch was upset about falling to the second round. Now, he said, that's ancient history.
``I've been over that since the first day I came in to the Cardinals' facility,'' he said. ``I mean, what happened, and there's no such thing as I'm supposed to be anywhere, because you're supposed to be where you're at.''
The biggest difference from college to pro, he said, is the amount of aggressiveness he can get away with at the line of scrimmage.
``In college, I was a little bit more aggressive with what I was doing,'' he said. ``I would come out a lot harder from my stance and hit the offensive player. But now I can't be as aggressive because the offensive linemen have a lot of technique and a lot of speed.''
He is working on taking a smaller step before contact ``because if you take a long step you'll get caught with one leg on the ground and get blown off the ball.''
It's hard work in one of the less glamorous positions in the game. Often, he's supposed to clog the middle to allow teammates to make the play.
``Someone's got to do it and I don't mind being that person,'' he said. ``I'm down and dirty in the trenches, but I like to think I'm extra pretty just because of it.''
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