As the Oakland Raiders players and coaches celebrated Family Day Sunday afternoon at the team's Napa Valley Training Complex, they collectively mourned for another member of the Raiders family, Cliff Branch, who passed away Saturday.
Branch spent his entire 14-year career with the Raiders – both in Oakland and Los Angeles – and when his playing days came to an end, the man regarded as one of the best deep threats in NFL history had tallied 501 receptions, good for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns.
"I'd like to just acknowledge that we're going to miss Cliff Branch," said Head Coach Jon Gruden following Sunday's practice. "It was a terrible loss to the Raiders and to football, and to everybody that knew him. A bunch of our players paid tribute to him today, and our prayers are with him and his family. That was a big loss for us."
As Gruden said, a handful of players and coaches – ranging from Derek Carr to Tyrell Williams and Lamarcus Joyner – all took to the practice field Sunday wearing No. 21 jerseys to pay homage to Branch, a move, that per the head coach, was their idea.
"That just means he left a great legacy here," said rookie running back Josh Jacobs. " That speaks a lot on him, and what kind of person he was."
The news of Branch's passing came shortly before the Raiders were due for their regular team meeting Saturday night, and when the entire team gathered as one, Gruden took the opportunity to not only speak on Branch, but to show some of the three-time Super Bowl champ's game tape.
"He [Gruden] stressed family, and team as a family," Jacobs explained. "Paying homage to the people that came before you, and they always say, especially the greats, he [Branch] was one of the greatest receivers to never be in the Hall of Fame… It's just a tragic situation."
"I just think it's good," added Gruden. "When you're on an NFL team, you can draw from the past, and it can help you in the future. Sometimes you can use these guys. We've had Lester Hayes, and Mike Haynes, and numerous players in our meeting rooms helping us, but I think respect is the number one thing, just respect the players that came before you."
Perhaps more than any other team in the National Football League, the Raiders value their history, and the players of yesteryear that paved the way for the current generation.
That is an ideal established from the top of the organization down, and one that also lives close to Gruden's heart.
"He's a good friend," Gruden said of Branch. "He's a good friend of mine, and has been over the years, and good friend of everybody's. I never saw Cliff Branch when he was down. He was always upbeat, great player, but I think our players have a good respect for who he was."
Cliff Branch was 71.
-With an off day on the horizon, and then two joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams coming up next week, Sunday's session was a light one. The players were not in pads, and parts of the day's work were done at less than full speed and without full contact.
-In injury-related news, Coach Gruden didn't have any update on the status of wide receiver Antonio Brown, but did say that running back Jalen Richard was currently dealing with a tweaked groin.
-As I mentioned earlier, Sunday was Family Day for the Silver and Black, and I must give kudos to our resident DJ, Daniel, for setting the tone by playing a little Sister Sledge for the first song of practice. We are indeed family, DJ Daniel. We are indeed.
Raiders linebacker Brandon Marshall visit Youth Uprising to discuss a future partnership.
-J.J. Nelson continued his quality training camp Sunday morning, hauling in yet another impressive catch, this one from Mike Glennon during the team's seven-on-seven session. Coming into camp, we all knew that Nelson had elite speed, but I've been impressed as of late by just how good the man's hands are. A dude as fast as Nelson oftentimes gets thought as a one-trick pony, but that's not the case for No. 15.
-Sunday was a Johnny Townsend punt day, and I have to say, No. 5 did a pretty nice job with his allotted kicks. It's been a lot of fun to watch Townsend and rookie A.J. Cole go back and forth in practice; the preseason will be huge in deciding which man earns the punting job for the Silver and Black.
-Speaking of the specialists, Daniel Carlson didn't kick Sunday, but the second-year Raider used his time on the field to work on numerous techniques, even getting a little practice on his onside kicks.
-Big shout-out to our guy, Erik Harris. During one of the team's seven-on-seven sessions, the veteran safety took a great route to the ball and plucked off a nice interception. Harris has been a player that Coach Gruden has talked up all training camp, and Sunday he showed why.
-Rookie tight end Foster Moreau got in on the action Sunday morning, hauling in a pair of nice catches, and showing a little burst after the catch. The former LSU Tiger is another guy I'm really excited to watch once the preseason gets underway next week.
Head Coach Jon Gruden discussing the play of Mike Glennon and Nathan Peterman during Sunday's practice:
"I was hoping to see a little bit more command today, not just with the system. They did some good things, just taking control of the team and I want to see a little bit more of that here in the coming weeks. We missed a couple of blitzes, we missed a couple of throws certainly, but I'd like to see them rally the team if Derek doesn't take the ball. I want to see somebody choke the opportunity and I'd like to see a little bit more of that."
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The Silver and Black have Monday off, but they'll be back to work Tuesday morning at their Napa Valley Training Complex. It'll be a busy week for Coach Gruden's squad, as they'll welcome in the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of joint practices beginning Wednesday.