Oakland Raiders: Why Tyvon Branch’s Return to Practice Bodes Well for Secondary

Strong safety Tyvon Branch practiced Wednesday for the first time since suffering ankle and leg injuries in Week 2. That’s significantly good news for the Oakland Raiders, who have had major problems at the back end of their pass defense most of the season.

Since entering the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick in 2008, Branch has developed into Oakland’s best defensive back and one of the top safeties in the NFL. He was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2011 and made a career-best 146 tackles in 2012.

Not surprisingly, the Raiders have sorely missed Branch in the secondary.

Brandian Ross, a converted cornerback who took over when Branch got hurt playing against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 15, has struggled to fill the gap. He’s been beaten for five touchdowns this season and has routinely graded out as the Raiders’ worst defensive back according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Ross has also not provided much support defending the run, an area where Branch has excelled throughout his career. Branch, who turns 27 on Dec. 11, is not only Oakland’s top defensive back, he’s also one of the team’s most sure-handed tacklers.

That’s why there was a noticeable buzz inside Oakland’s locker room after Branch completed his first practice in nearly three months.

“Anytime you lose a player of Tyvon’s ability and the way that he plays the game … that’s a tough guy to replace,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Wednesday. “Just getting him back on the field I think’s a big boost obviously to him but to all of us.”

Branch moved around well in the crisp conditions, even though he was limited in what he was allowed to do. He appeared rusty and stiff at times, but otherwise was fine.

Later, when talking to reporters, Branch said he’s eager to get back on the field even if ...

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