Photo by Tony Gonzales
It's been over eight months since Tyvon Branch played a competitive snap in an NFL game.
Branch suffered a fractured fibula during the Raiders week two matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars and missed the remaining 14 games of the season - more than he had missed in the entirety of his six-year NFL career.
"It just made me hungrier," said Branch. "Especially with the guys that we're bringing in now, and seeing the potential of this team. That just made me even hungrier to get back and get back at a high level."
|Photo by Tony Gonzales|
The type of injury that Branch suffered was especially difficult for the talented safety to bounce back from. "With speed being such a big part of my game, to have a significant leg injury, that was a big deal," he said. "It just humbles you and it makes you work even harder."
Branch's return to the football field provides a multitude of benefits for a young Raiders defense. Not only will they welcome back a veteran presence to the secondary, Branch's versatility will also allow other players the freedom to move around the field as well.
"It'll be great for him, coming off the injury," FS Charles Woodson said. "You know he's hungry, because when you miss time from this game, you get a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Having him back and having him be hungry, as I know he is, is going to be great for our defense."
Woodon's sentiment is also echoed by Head Coach Dennis Allen who is excited about having one of his defensive assets back in 2014. "I have high expectations for him because he's a good football player and he's exactly the type of guy that we're looking for," Allen told Season Ticket Members in a conference call. "He's tough, he's smart, he's physical, he's a passionate guy, he loves football and the more guys that you can get like that, the better off you're going to be."
After a long rehabilitation process, the wait is nearly over for the former Connecticut Husky to return on game day. Branch has been back on the field with his Raiders teammates at the Alameda facility over the past few weeks and has been a full participant in the team's Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
"It feels good being back there feeling like an athlete again," Branch said, with a big smile on his face. "When I first tried to come back, I was rushing it, so it feels good to feel like an athlete again."
In addition to the excitement of being healthy in 2014, the Syracuse, N.Y., native is looking forward to working with the new members of the Raiders added by GM Reggie McKenzie this offseason.
"It's not like he's [McKenzie] bringing in Average Joe's," Branch said. "He brought in some high-quality guys and you can tell they want to turn this thing around ASAP."
Optimism runs high with the 2014 Raiders, and Branch believes that the Raiders defense has the chance to surprise a lot of people this season.
"The sky's the limit for us. We're so talented at every level and we have so much depth now. The sky's the limit for our defense."