Raiders hope to get boost from healthy Branch

The Oakland Raiders finally might be getting one of the anchors

of their defense back.

Strong safety Tyvon Branch has returned to practice this week

for the first time since breaking his right leg Sept. 15 against

Jacksonville.

Branch is still limited at practice but hopes to be able to play

Sunday against the New York Jets. Branch was one of only two

returning starters on Oakland’s overhauled defense but only played

one game before getting hurt in the first quarter against the

Jaguars in Week 2.

While Brandian Ross is still slated to start this week, Branch

could get some time, which would provide a big boost for the

Raiders (4-8), who have lost four of their last five games.

”He’s physical and he’s powerful and he loves contact,”

defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. ”That’s what he brings to

the table. You can always use more guys like that.”

Ross had started only one game before taking over for Branch in

Week 3 against Denver and struggled at times with his increased

role. He was targeted on three touchdown passes in a 49-20 loss to

Philadelphia on Nov. 3, according to Pro Football Focus, and had

just three passes defensed, no interceptions, one sack and one

forced fumble all season.

Coach Dennis Allen said that if Branch is healthy he will play

despite being a bit rusty after missing nearly three months of

action with the injury.

”If my leg holds up, I think I can make an impact,” Branch

said. ”That’s part of my game is coming in and making plays. If I

have a chance to come out there and make some plays, I want

to.”

While the regime led by Allen and general manager Reggie

McKenzie has spent much of its first two years in Oakland getting

rid of players originally acquired by late owner Al Davis, the team

made a commitment to Branch when it signed him to a four-year,

$26.5 million contract.

One year later, they restructured the deal and added two more

years to it as they increased their commitment to Branch even

though he has yet to play up to that big contract.

”Any time you lose a player of Tyvon’s ability and the way that

he plays the game and he stands for the things we believe in here

and the way he takes care of his business, that’s a tough guy to

replace,” Allen said. ”Just getting him back out on the field, I

think is a big boost to obviously to him and to all of us.”

Branch is one of the longest-tenured Raiders non-specialists,

arriving in 2008 along with running backs Darren McFadden and

Marcel Reece. The only players with more continuous service with

the team are kicker Sebastian Janikowski and long snapper Jon

Condo.

He had been extremely durable in his time in Oakland, starting

80 of 82 games from the start of the 2009 season until the injury

this year. That’s what made these last few months so difficult for

him.

”Just watching the games, that’s the toughest part because you

want to be a part of it,” he said. ”Once I started talking to the

doctors about it, I knew it would be a long process. I just wanted

to get it right and get back on the field. I want to be out there.

I’m going to push it to the limit and whatever happens,

happens.”

NOTES: McFadden remained sidelined by an ankle injury sustained

last week in Dallas. … WR Denarius Moore (shoulder), RG Mike

Brisiel (ankle, knee), S Usama Young (neck), RB Jeremy Stewart

(ankle, knee) and LB Kaluka Maiava (ribs, calf) also sat out

practice. … RB Rashad Jennings was limited with a concussion.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org