Branch: Woodson was my favorite player in college
Usama Young was a starting free safety in Cleveland, and becomes a super-sub in the Raiders defense. (AP)
Tyvon Branch on Usama Young: "We have a bunch of veteran guys, so it’s not like we’re teaching a young kid how to play football.” (AP)
Raider Nation cheered the return of an icon in Charles Woodson, but Usama Young raised an eyebrow. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
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NAPA – Usama Young signed with the Raiders in April under the impression he’d start at free safety.
Then, six weeks later, the Raiders signed Charles Woodson.
While Raider Nation cheered the return of an icon, Young raised an eyebrow.
“Once they brought Charles in, I thought, ‘is he playing nickelback or cornerback or what?’” Young said with a laugh. “I knew he was going to play free safety, and I took it as a heightened level of competition. I came here to compete.”
Deep down, Young knew no position battle would be waged.
“Charles is a great player, so there isn’t much of a competition going on others are compared to his film,” Young said. “I’m learning from him, but I’m fighting for a big role on this team. No matter who else is on the roster, I’m always competing.”
Young’s hard work has produced starter-worthy play, adding depth to a position group that is undoubtedly the Raiders’ strongest.
The Raiders have Woodson at free safety, Tyvon Branch at strong safety and Young as the roving backup.
All three players can do it all, a fact that didn’t escape defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.
“When you have all-around talents like Tyvon and Charles, you have to take advantage of it,” Tarver said. “We’re going to move these guys around. We’re going have them play aggressive defense and at times get after the quarterback. They give us options, and because they do so many things well, they’re very difficult to scheme against.”
That’s true of Young too. He was a starting free safety in Cleveland, and becomes a super-sub in this defense. The Raiders won’t change their game plan much with him in the lineup, a rarity playing without a star player.
One safety can cheat up, while the other becomes the final line of defense. Unlike most other teams, those roles are easily reversed.
One drawback: This group is new and chemistry is built over time. This particular process has been accelerated by experience.
“We have a bunch of veteran guys, so it’s not like we’re teaching a young kid how to play football,” Branch said. “We’re just playing off of each other, and all we’re focused on is playing well together. The bond has been built a lot faster than normal.”
Much is being asked of the safeties, who are up to the task of playing a bigger, more diverse role than most. “We’re taking on a lot of responsibility,” Branch said, “But we have the right guys who are up for the task.”