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Ex-Pat Deion Branch defends Aaron Hernandez: 'Aaron is a great guy'

(Al Bello/Getty Images) Ex-Patriots receiver Deion Branch (84) said of Aaron Hernandez, "I love him to death." (Al Bello/Getty Images)

While the NFL and the Patriots have taken steps to distance themselves from ex-Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez following his murder charge, on Saturday former New England receiver Deion Branch became the first player to defend Hernandez.

Branch, who spent seven seasons with the Patriots and lives across the street from Hernandez in North Attleborough, Mass., told the Albany Herald that Hernandez is a "great guy" and he was "shocked" to hear of the murder charge.

Branch's comments to the Herald during his eighth annual Skills and Drills camp offer an opposing view to those of former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light, who said earlier this week that teammates "never embraced" Hernandez.

From the report:

“Aaron is a great guy and a great friend of mine and a great teammate,” Branch told The Herald “I love him to death, and it was shocking to hear his name involved in this situation. I truly hope and pray he doesn’t have any dealings with it.”

...

On Saturday, Branch didn’t have anything negative to say about Hernandez.

“That’s my guy, man,” Branch said of Hernandez. “That’s my guy. It really shocked me. He was a great kid. Overall, I hope the best that he isn’t involved with it and I hope he gets his name cleared, but most importantly I send my prayers and condolences out to the Lloyd family.”

Branch said there was nothing in his association with Hernandez on or off the field that led him to believe he was capable of murder, but details recently emerging from Hernandez’s past seem to suggest otherwise.

On Friday, a third suspect in connection with the murder was arrested, while the Patriots began offering free exchanges on Hernandez jerseys.

ROSENBERG: Hernandez's arrest a sad chapter in a checkered history

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