ALAMEDA -- Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch blitzed the quarterback, got wrapped up with an offensive lineman and was thrown to the ground.
Guard Will Rackley was penalized for illegal technique and Branch pulled up lame. He was helped off the field with what a source later diagnosed as a fractured fibula.
That happened Sept. 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Head coach Dennis Allen said shortly after that Branch would "miss some time."
No Raiders expected him to miss so much. Branch was left on the 53-man roster while rehabbing an ankle injury that was allowed to heal on its own. It took nearly three months to get back to practice.
That happened on Wednesday afternoon, and put Branch in line to play starting Sunday against the New York Jets.
"If my leg holds up, I can make an impact,” Branch said, in his first public comments since the injury. “That's part of my game, coming in and making plays. If I have a chance to come out and make some plays, I want to do that for my team."
Branch struggled watching on the sideline, through good times and bad. He had missed just two games since 2008 -- a shoulder injury cut his rookie season in half -- and was a leader of an overhauled defense. We saw a career year in the making, with a diverse role in coordinator Jason Tarver’s blitz-happy scheme. He was a feature player of a deep, experienced secondary until the ankle went snap.
He tried to lead from the sideline, but words lose weight without action. Frustration grew as time ticked by and his season grew shorter every week.
“It probably (took longer than expected), you never know how those things are going to respond,” Allen said. “Obviously he had a significant injury. He was in here every day rehabbing it. We felt like he was at a point now where we could get him out, start practicing and really start evaluating him playing football. When he shows that he can play the game of football and play it at a level we need him to play at, then he’ll be ready to go.”
Patience has worn thin, especially with four games remaining and the Raiders outside true playoff contention.
"Being away sucked, but it is what it is,” Branch said. “That's part of this game. Guys get injured and you just have to fight back. I want to be out there so I'm going to push it to the limit and whatever happens, happens.”
The Raiders need Branch back full-time with Brandian Ross struggling lately in his stead, but that might not be realistic. Branch said he might not be in true football shape, meaning he might need spells until he gets there.
While Branch remains frustrated with his lot, he was happy to practice again and thankful the team didn’t put him on season-ending injured reserve. That afforded the opportunity to finish strong.
“I appreciate that they kept me around,” Branch said. “Whenever you have an injury, there’s some doubt regarding your return. Guys recover differently. I’m happy to have the opportunity to play again this season.”