COMMENTARY | When we think of great duos, the Blues Brothers, Lewis and Clark or the Olsen twins may come to mind.
Woodson and Branch are projected to start at free and strong safety respectively this coming season. On paper, they represent the most talented Raiders safety tandem since George Atkinson and Jack Tatum in the 1970s.
Since the end of the disco era, the Raiders have tried to replicate their play by investing substantially into the last line of defense, but often times acquisitions like Gibril Wilson and Derrick Gibson failed to live up to expectations.
Now Branch, a fourth round pick in 2008 and the secondary's cornerstone, will have a steady teammate to his right for the first time since entering the NFL. Michael Huff was supposed to be his star partner in crime, but the 2006 seventh overall selection was maddeningly inconsistent when in open space and making pre-snap decisions during his Oakland tenure.
Woodson has only started seven regular season games at safety (he often stood in the box for the Green Bay Packers in 2012), but like Rod Woodson (no relation), Ronnie Lott and Troy Vincent before him, he is more than qualified to make the late-career switch from outside corner. In an earlier life, the Super Bowl XLV champion produced 55 interceptions, 29 forced fumbles, 17 sacks and 12 touchdowns on his way to seven All Pro nominations and the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Based on credentials alone, Woodson should be able to hold his own at full-time free safety.
More valuable than his physical presence or accolades is Woodson's 15 years of NFL experience he brings to the Raiders. The 37 year old improved his craft in part by picking the minds of Dom Capers, Eric Allen and the Hall-enshrined Woodson among others. If Green Bay's Morgan Burnett's sudden ascension with his tutelage is an inclination, the veteran will teach Branch and backup Usama Young the less obvious but crucial intricacies of quarterbacking the secondary.
Health permitting (and that's a big "if" for the ex-Packer, who is ten months removed from a second broken collarbone), Woodson and Branch should form a dynamic pair. Woodson is no longer the sprinter he used to be, but he still embraces contact, and his hardwired instincts will make up for a lost step. The ultra-gifted Branch (who ran a 4.31 40 time at the NFL combine) should act more freely now that he is confident in the help beside him.
With Woodson and Branch at their collective best, there will be relentless blitzes, swarming aerial coverage, timely turnovers and sound tackling---or as opposing offensive coordinators will soon call it, utter chaos.
As a defense with potentially nine new starters painfully gels through the early stages of the season, Woodson and Branch will keep the fragile front nine stable. 80 yard touchdowns scored on the Raiders should be a thing of the past in 2013.
Rui Thomas is a freelance sports writer who is published by Goldengatesports.com, Sportsoutwest.com, Fannation.com and Radiosurvivor.com. Follow his tweets @MrRuiThomas.
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