Raiders training camp preview: Safeties

Raiders training camp preview: Safeties
July 24, 2014, 12:15 pm
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Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch are expected to be primary starters, and both should help in run defense at times.
Scott Bair

Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to Raiders training camp. The full squad will report on July 23, with the first practice day scheduled for July 25. In this installment, Scott focuses on safeties.

Who they have: FS Charles Woodson, SS Tyvon Branch, S Shelton Johnson, FS Usama Young, SS Brandian Ross, S Johnathan Dowling

Who they lost: No one

Looking back: Safety seemed like a position of strength when the 2013 season started. Then Branch fractured a fibula in Week 2 and was lost for the season. That turned out to be a spot of little depth, as Ross struggled in his stead. Woodson primarily played a deep safety, the last line of defense, which doesn’t skew toward his playmaking strengths. Depth was stretched even farther when Young was lost late to a neck injury. It left Woodson on an island and severely hurt a secondary that finished No. 28 in pass defense.

Overall outlook: Renewed health for Branch provides a shot in the arm for this group and provides another opportunity for Woodson and Branch to play off each other and add some unpredictably to safety play. They are expected to be primary starters, and both should help in run defense at times. Young is back as well, providing veteran depth for Woodson. Branch’s backup remains in question with Ross slated behind him, leaving concerns that one injury could change things for the worse.

Camp competition: Woodson, Young and Branch are all expected to make the 53-man roster. Ross, however, could have some competition from seventh-round draft pick Jonathan Dowling. The Western Kentucky alum was considered a draft steal by many, but he’ll have to prove his worth throughout the preseason to move into the No. 2 spot. Johnson is also in the mix. Unless some backups become core special teams players, it’s hard to imagine the team keeping five or six safeties on the 53-man roster.