By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Thursday, December 17th, 2009 at 1:15 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Tyvon Branch is low-maintenance.
When the Raiders found themselves short of defensive backs with Michael Huff nursing a stinger and Nnamdi Asomugha temporarily leaving the game to have his forearm X-rayed, Cable had his starting strong safety line up outside as a cornerback against wide receivers.
“He says, `Got, coach. What’s the call? You want me to play man or zone. I got it. Just tell me what to do,’ ” Cable said. that’s what you need your team to be, guys that are selfless that way.”
Branch said Thursday it doesn’t much matter to him where he plays.
“I just want to be a good player, regardless of where it is,” Branch said. “If they need me to go down to D-tackle, D-end or anything, I’ll do it. I just love playing. I have a lot of love for the game still and I think that’s what separates me from other guys.”
According to unofficial NFL statistics for tackles, Branch leads all defensive backs with 99 tackles. That’s only two behind linebacker Kirk Morrison for the team lead, and Morrison has lead the Raiders in tackles four years in a row.
He’s played in the box and and in coverage against tight ends, and is now proving he can stay with wide receivers if called upon. After missing much of his rookie year following shoulder surgery, Branch, a fourth-round draft pick out of UConn, was talked up during the offseason as a significant member of the Raiders defense.
For the Raiders, whose ability to find and develop safeties during the draft has been suspect in recent years, it was enough for hardened cynics to give a major roll of the eyes.
Except Branch has validated the hype through his play. He’s made some mistakes in coverage and had a handful of missed tackles, but in his second season, Branch has considerable upside at a problem position for the Raiders.
He was even voted the winner of the team’s Ed Block Courage Award by his teammates as the player as the player who“ best exemplifies a commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.”
“It means a lot, that the guys look at me like that,” Branch said.
One grateful teammate is rookie safety Mike Mitchell, who credited Branch by saving him some money in NFL-imposed fines for keeping him from getting in a fight following the 34-13 loss to the Redskins.
Mitchell sought out Washington cornerback Fred Smoot for celebrating over a fallen Zach Miller, Cable cited it as an example of the rookie defensive back sticking up for family.
Branch, in turn had Mitchell’s back in the aftermath.
“Tyvon ended up grabbing me and literally pulled me in the locker room and said, `Man, this is stupid, get inside,’ ” Mitchell said.
Mitchell can’t promise he’ll react any differently if he sees Denver players celebrating near the Raiders bench while a teammate is injured nearby.
“That’s how I am. A tiger doesn’t change his stripes,” Mitchell said. “Even though I can tell myself a thousand times over I’d like to handle myself differently, when I feel disrespected like that I just have to do something.”
If Mitchell can make career advances in Year 2 that Branch did this season, the Raiders could have a pair of starting, home grown safeties. Mitchell’s play has increased in nickel packages, and Branch’s recent forays in coverage indicate he could ultimately become a free safety.
Branch, predictably, isn’t overly concerned about where he’ll lineup so long as he’s on the field.
“I really don’t deal with part of the game. I just go out there and play and let the coaches make the decisions they’re going to make and the way things are going right now with Mike coming in in packages the way he is, and stepping up the way he is, it’s working for us,” Branchs said.
Miller watching practice
Tight end Zach Miller made a slow walk from the club facility to the field Thursday wearing a baseball cap and not dressed to practice.
There’s a good chance Miller will be shut down this week after sustaining his second concussion since Oct 4, with Tony Stewart and Brandon Myers taking over against Denver.
Tim Mattran, a 6-foot-5, 295-pound center out of Stanford who was last with the St. Louis Rams, has joined the practice squad after Roy Schuening _ whom the Raiders hoped to return to the practice squad _ was claimed by the Detriot Lions after being waived from the 53-man roster.
More to come . . .