Depth allows Raiders to survive Branch injury
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ALAMEDA – Life without Tyvon Branch starts now. The Raiders must play without their strong safety for an indefinite period after suffering an ankle injury on Sunday against Jacksonville.

Replacing a player of that caliber is no easy feat. Safety Usama Young called it a “devastation,” but it might not be that bad.

Despite the emotional toll of losing a team leader, the Raiders are prepared to absorb such a blow. Safety is by far their deepest position group, with versatile talents who can perform the wide-range of responsibilities required by this scheme.

With Branch out, the scheme remains unchanged.

“We’ve got guys we feel like can step up and make plays at strong safety and free safety,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said a Monday’s press conference. “I look at those as interchangeable positions. They really need to be to have the flexibility do some of the things we do defensively. I have confidence in all three guys that are back there.

“We’ll run the defense as it’s designed.”

Brandian Ross is No. 2 on the depth chart, but it’s likely that veteran Usama Young will team with Woodson at safety. Both have extensive experience playing strong and free safety and can alternate responsibilities without issue.

That’s a rare luxury, one made possible by Woodson’s late signing. Young was already in the mix, slated to start at free safety. Woodson became the third safety of high caliber, and the 36-year old has lived up to his reputation. Young has been a quality addition as well, deserving of playing time behind entrenched starters. 

Those two will allow coordinator Jason Tarver can keep his defense unpredictable.

“We mix it up so much,” Young said. “So many guys might be in the box, so many guys might be back in space. You never know where you’re going to be. J.T. does a good job at that. That forces you to be ready for anything.”

The Raiders believe they can weather Branch’s absence with their remaining talent, but it does hurt to lose a player with so much experience in the system. With Branch out, end Lamarr Houston is the only defensive starter left from a year ago.

“I think the best part about Tyvon is that he’s been in the system now for a while and he truly understands the game,” Woodson said. “There’s not much out there that’s going to surprise him as a player. So you’re going to miss a guy out there that has a great understanding of what to do and when to do it.”

Woodson is a calming influence in that regard. He never gets flustered, and always knows how to orchestrate this defense. There will be no panic without Branch involved. He has faith in those around him, so they have faith in themselves.

“We have smart players, guys that can go in and know what’s expected of them, know what to do, so we won’t have to alter our game plan at all,” Woodson said. “We look forward of going into Denver with our full arsenal of plays. We just have to stick different guys in there to implement the same plan. We feel comfortable doing that that."