The Oakland Raiders felt their share of injuries in 2013. One of the most important and crushing losses Oakland sustained was to strong safety Tyvon Branch, who fractured his fibula. One of the team's best playmakers and a leader on that side of the ball was lost for the last 14 games of 2013. Now, the Raiders have started the Organized Team Activities with Branch back on the field looking to make his impact felt in 2014.
Branch is a stalwart in the Oakland secondary, which made his loss last season even more devastating. In the previous four seasons, Branch had started 62 of a possible 64 games. He amassed 100 or more tackles from 2009-2011 and just missed that mark in 2012 with 94 stops. It would have been another 100 tackle season if he had not missed two games. Those numbers alone display his impact.
“I think any time you lose a player of Tyvon’s ability, it does hinder you as far as what you can do,” head coach Dennis Allen said.
The 27-year-old returns for the upcoming season as another major addition to the defensive side of the ball. Oakland rebuilt most of the defense from last season and Branch returning is like gaining a Pro Bowl caliber player. He is stout against the run and has the athleticism to play deep safety or come forward to cover tight ends. With so much more help around him this season, Branch will be used in a variety of different ways. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is known for his "mad scientist" approach to play calling, which will be aided by Branch's return.
Getting Branch back healthy helps the defense as a whole, but a major impact will be felt by his safety partner Charles Woodson. Woodson showed he still has very solid skills last season with another productive year. Now, with Branch back, Woodson is another piece that can move around the defense and be put in position to make plays, which is his specialty.
”Anytime you get your guys back and get them back healthy, you feel better about your chances,” Woodson said of Branch. “It’ll be great for him, coming off the injury. You know he’s hungry, because when you miss time from this game, you get a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Having him back and having him be hungry, as I know he is, is going to be great for our defense.”
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