Raiders safety Tyvon Branch (No. 33) has been a starter since 2009. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The Oakland Raiders began this season with only two starters remaining on defense from the 2012 season.
Now, there is just one.
Strong safety Tyvon Branch injured his right ankle on just the second Jacksonville series Sunday during the Raiders’ 19-9 victory over the Jaguars at O.co Coliseum. Branch, who had been blitzing Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne when he was hurt, had to be helped off the field with 7:50 remaining in the first quarter, and he appeared to be in pain.
Said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen after the game: “That looks to be a significant injury. We’ll find out more later.”
It’s doubtful, however, that Branch will be back in the lineup any time soon, which is a significant loss to a Raiders team that has played much better defensively this season. Branch has teamed with veteran safety Charles Woodson and three new cornerbacks – Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins and rookie D.J. Hayden – to solidify a secondary that was a weak point last season. Through two games, Branch had five tackles and a sack.
Last season, his fourth as a starter, he had 94 tackles, one interception and three passes defensed.
Branch and defensive end Lamarr Houston were the only 2012 defensive starters kept, and Allen had spoken highly of Branch’s all-around contributions.
Just last season, Branch signed a new four-year deal.
Now, Brandian Ross will get an opportunity to show what he can do. Ross, No. 2 on the depth chart at strong safety, played the rest of Sunday’s game and finished with three tackles and a sack. A converted cornerback from Youngstown State, Ross (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) is in his third pro season, having been acquired from the Packers in 2012. He played 14 games for Oakland last season, making 20 tackles. In two games this year, he has four tackles, but played sparingly against the Colts in the opener.
The Raiders this offseason signed veteran Usama Young for depth, and Young, too, played significantly on Sunday. Young, listed as the No. 2 free safety behind Woodson, said Sunday that Branch’s loss hurts.
“That’s tough,” Young told Jimmy Durkin of the Bay Area News Group. “He’s a great player. I talked to him at the half. You never want to see one of your guys go down. … Hopefully, he’s not too bad, but a player like that, it always hurts. He’s been playing at a high level for a while, and with that, somebody’s got to step up.”
It’s possible that if Branch is out for a significant amount of time, Young could see more action at strong safety, too. Young, in his seventh NFL season, played 29 games for the Cleveland Browns the past two seasons after playing four seasons for the New Orleans Saints.
"(Young) is a guy that I've got a lot of knowledge and experience with," said Allen, who coached Young at New Orleans. "We said from the very beginning that we felt very good about the safety position, that we had some depth there. ...
"I thought he did a nice job stepping up today, as well as Brandian Ross."
Now, that depth will be tested.