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Raiders Tyvon Branch breaks up a pass intended for 49ers Delanie Walker in the first quarter at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, August 28, 2010. The San Francisco 49ers played the Oakland Raiders in preseason play. (Jim Gensheimer/Mercury News)
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT (publ. 09/07/11)
The Raiders notebook in the Sports section Tuesday incorrectly reported the Raiders released fullback Marcel Reece. Reece is still on the team.

If Tyvon Branch makes a few more plays like the one he did in the Raiders' preseason finale, it would be one of the cover stories of the 2011 season.

We've grown accustomed to seeing Branch, the Raiders' fourth-year strong safety, taking his place near the line of scrimmage, making tackles, and coming free to sack the quarterback on the occasional blitz.

Former coach Lane Kiffin raved about Branch, and Kiffin's successor, Tom Cable, was never short on superlatives. In an offseason radio interview, coach Hue Jackson went so far as to say Branch "plays as well and as hard as anyone I've ever seen play the game."

Over the past two seasons, no Raiders player has more tackles than Branch's 228. He had four sacks last season and returned a fumble for a touchdown in a 35-27 win over San Diego.

Before Branch became a full-time safety, punter Shane Lechler said he was one of the best special-teams gunners he'd played with.

His speed, toughness and durability are beyond question, but what was encouraging for the Raiders on Friday night was a play Branch made to thwart a strong opening drive by the Seattle Seahawks.

Falling back into coverage, Branch read the eyes of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and broke perfectly to the pass intended for Golden Tate. He intercepted the pass at the goal line and returned it to the 25-yard line.


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"We were in a zone, I got a good read and I just took off," Branch said.

It is the kind of play Hue Jackson is hoping comes more often for the Raiders, who haven't finished in the top 10 in interceptions since 2002 and have just 20 interceptions in their past 32 games.

The numbers say Branch has taken his lumps in pass coverage. He has one interception and 11 passes defensed in 32 starts over two seasons (plus another interception as a rookie).

The statistical service STATS, LLC has opponents completing 31 of 46 passes for 428 yards and eight touchdowns against Branch in 2010.

To be fair, strong safety is one of the toughest coverage positions in the league, given the proximity to the line of scrimmage, the angles involved and the traffic encountered covering routes.

Even perennial Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu of Pittsburgh gave up 38 completions in 58 attempts for 445 yards and two scores.

Another statistical outlet, Football Outsiders, had Branch ranked 70th among NFL safeties in one pass defense category and 62nd in another.

"I get a lot of criticism on my coverage, so the big thing I focused on in the offseason was attacking the ball, and it's paying off," Branch said. "I think I'm a good player, and everyone on my team will vouch for that. I give a lot of effort, I barely give up plays, and I take a lot of criticism I don't deserve. I just go out there and play ball."

During the NFL lockout, Branch, a fourth-round draft pick out of UConn in 2008, spent much of his time in Florida working on pass defense. He talked with quarterbacks about route progressions to help his ability to anticipate and break on the ball.

During training camp, cornerbacks coach Rod Woodson said he expected the Raiders to be a "multiple" defense, and the scheme that resulted in the interception against Seattle was one that put Branch in position to make the play.

"He's been an in-the-box safety," free safety Michael Huff said. "We haven't run many (zones), Cover 2s, stuff like that. He's getting more comfortable in those roles, and it will help this defense out."

Asked if he thought Branch would be a complete player this season against both the run and the pass, Jackson said, "I think he can do it. I truly do."

  • Safety Matt Giordano, released the previous day, was signed to the roster. The Raiders released Michael Bennett, one of five running backs on the roster, along with fullback Marcel Reece.

  • Tight end Kevin Boss (knee strain) did not practice, and Jackson said he didn't know his status regarding practice Wednesday. The Raiders kept four tight ends on the roster, including Boss, a sign he may not be ready for the season opener.

    Others who did not practice included wide receiver Louis Murphy, safety Mike Mitchell and wide receiver Derek Hagan. Hagan said his injury is minor and he expects to practice Wednesday night.

    The Raiders take Tuesday off.

  • Jackson said the Raiders, who practiced for about an hour, have done no on-field game preparation specific to Monday's opener at Denver. That starts Wednesday night.

    Monday's GAME

    Raiders at Denver, 7:15 p.m. ESPN