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Raiders hope to get boost from healthy Branch

AP - Sports

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) -- The Oakland Raiders finally might be getting one of the anchors of their defense back.

Strong safety Tyvon Branch has returned to practice this week for the first time since breaking his right leg Sept. 15 against Jacksonville.

Branch is still limited at practice but hopes to be able to play Sunday against the New York Jets. Branch was one of only two returning starters on Oakland's overhauled defense but only played one game before getting hurt in the first quarter against the Jaguars in Week 2.

While Brandian Ross is still slated to start this week, Branch could get some time, which would provide a big boost for the Raiders (4-8), who have lost four of their last five games.

''He's physical and he's powerful and he loves contact,'' defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. ''That's what he brings to the table. You can always use more guys like that.''

Ross had started only one game before taking over for Branch in Week 3 against Denver and struggled at times with his increased role. He was targeted on three touchdown passes in a 49-20 loss to Philadelphia on Nov. 3, according to Pro Football Focus, and had just three passes defensed, no interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble all season.

Coach Dennis Allen said that if Branch is healthy he will play despite being a bit rusty after missing nearly three months of action with the injury.

''If my leg holds up, I think I can make an impact,'' Branch said. ''That's part of my game is coming in and making plays. If I have a chance to come out there and make some plays, I want to.''

While the regime led by Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie has spent much of its first two years in Oakland getting rid of players originally acquired by late owner Al Davis, the team made a commitment to Branch when it signed him to a four-year, $26.5 million contract.

One year later, they restructured the deal and added two more years to it as they increased their commitment to Branch even though he has yet to play up to that big contract.

''Any time you lose a player of Tyvon's ability and the way that he plays the game and he stands for the things we believe in here and the way he takes care of his business, that's a tough guy to replace,'' Allen said. ''Just getting him back out on the field, I think is a big boost to obviously to him and to all of us.''

Branch is one of the longest-tenured Raiders non-specialists, arriving in 2008 along with running backs Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece. The only players with more continuous service with the team are kicker Sebastian Janikowski and long snapper Jon Condo.

He had been extremely durable in his time in Oakland, starting 80 of 82 games from the start of the 2009 season until the injury this year. That's what made these last few months so difficult for him.

''Just watching the games, that's the toughest part because you want to be a part of it,'' he said. ''Once I started talking to the doctors about it, I knew it would be a long process. I just wanted to get it right and get back on the field. I want to be out there. I'm going to push it to the limit and whatever happens, happens.''

NOTES: McFadden remained sidelined by an ankle injury sustained last week in Dallas. ... WR Denarius Moore (shoulder), RG Mike Brisiel (ankle, knee), S Usama Young (neck), RB Jeremy Stewart (ankle, knee) and LB Kaluka Maiava (ribs, calf) also sat out practice. ... RB Rashad Jennings was limited with a concussion.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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