Tyvon Branch was no heralded savior when he joined the Raiders in 2008.
The fourth-round pick out of Connecticut, who played mostly cornerback for the Huskies his senior season, was a second team All-Big East pick who was known as much for his talents as a kick returner as for his play as a defensive back.
But since coming to the NFL, Branch has prospered and now, as the Raiders prepare to open training camp, the starting strong safety is a player the new-look Raiders hope to build around defensively.
While other players have been shed this offseason, the Raiders have made a commitment to Branch, who will team with Michael Huff to give Oakland a solid pair of safeties on what Huff says will be a “real defense” in 2012.
Since 2009, Branch has been the team’s most consistent player on defense, with three straight seasons of 100 or more tackles. In 2011, Branch had 109 tackles, recovered a fumble and had an interception for an 8-8 team that yet again missed the playoffs.
He’s not only been solid defensively, but durable as well, starting 48 consecutive games the past three seasons.
According to Yahoo! Sports, Branch’s 327 tackles over the past three years rank second to all defensive backs in the NFL over that span behind only the 340 of the Colts’ Antoine Bethea. And, he’s one of the NFL’s surest tacklers, missing only six attempted tackles in 2011 according to ProFootballFocus.
In addition, the same report cites statistics from STATS LLC showing that Branch has become a much better pass defender, with the completion percentage against him dropping from 67.4 percent in 2010 to 55.7 percent last season.
Now, under new coach Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, Branch obviously is a centerpiece to Oakland’s new-look defensive scheme that will feature more varied fronts, different coverages and more blitzing.
Branch, who was given the franchise tag this offseason, now enters the new year with a new four-year deal and the security that comes with knowing he’ll be wearing silver and black for several more seasons.
“It gives you that (comfort) that you’re going to be around for the next couple of years,” Branch said in a conference call with reporters after the new deal was reached recently. “It definitely gives you a little more peace of mind. It’s just one of those things that you don’t have to worry about anymore. You know where you’re going to be.”
In speaking about his new deal and the new season ahead, Branch says he’s focused on reaching his potential and helping the team turn around and advance into the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season.
“I don’t really have any personal goals,” Branch said on the conference call. “I just want to win. Whatever it takes to win. I’m all about winning. That’s the most important thing: whatever it’s going to take for us to get in the big dance.
“We want to be a part of the tournament this year, get into the playoffs.”