|Raiders safety Mike Mitchell could be celebrating his first start in Oakland's base defense Sunday against the Ravens. (US Presswire)|
Starting SS Tyvon Branch missed practice again with a neck injury he suffered last week at Baltimore. If Branch can't play Sunday, Mitchell will start against the Saints, coach Dennis Allen said.
"Obviously, it's a goal of mine to be a starter in the league and to play," Mitchell said. "I welcome the opportunity. It's unfortunate, what's going on with Tyvon. You never want one of your brothers to get hurt, but I'm going to be willing to play. Coach always says next man up.
"If they give me the opportunity, I'm just so ready to be done with this, to show what I can do. I'm tired -- I feel like I've been held back, held back, held back. So if I get the opportunity I just want to go play good football and show the abilities God has blessed me with.
"I don't know if I'm going to go out there and get three interceptions. I'm not saying anything like that, but just to get the opportunity to prepare like a starter and just go play and actually start a game for the first time in my career, I'm definitely excited about it."
The Raiders drafted Mitchell in the second round out of Ohio in 2009. He's credited with seven career starts, but those came in nickel defense packages.
Allen said Branch's injury is "a concern" because it's kept him off the practice field all week.
"We'll see if he's feeling better tomorrow. If he's able to practice tomorrow then I'd anticipate he'd be able to play," Allen said. "I'd have some real concern if he's not able to practice tomorrow."
Mitchell came to the Raiders with a reputation for being a big hitter. He plays with great emotion and energy, but Allen said at times he needs to be more under control.
"He's a very passionate player," Allen said. "He works extremely hard. He loves the game. So sometimes you just got to slow his heartbeat down a little bit and get him to calm down a little bit. I've been pleased with some of the things that I've seen Mike do. It's important to him, and that's what I like about him."
"You know, that's coach's opinion. Obviously, he's a smart guy. They're doing the evaluations. I think I'm more than capable of starting in this league and being a very good football player," Mitchell said. "I just got to slow my heartbeat down and go play good football. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity."
Heyward-Bey update: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey missed practice Thursday, a day after tweaking a hamstring in practice. "When we get in tomorrow we'll see exactly how he's feeling," Allen said. "Hopefully, he'll be able to go tomorrow, but we don't know that."
Palmer to Vitt: Raiders QB Carson Palmer and Saints interim coach Joe Vitt have a connection that dates to Palmer's freshman year at Santa Margarita High School in Southern California. Vitt was an assistant coach for the Rams, and his son, Joe, was Palmer's teammate. "I played with him one year, little Joey Vitt," Palmer said. "He was a good receiver, a very good receiver."
Extra points: Starting FS Matt Giordano (concussion) returned to practice but was limited. ... RT Khalif Barnes (groin) was a full participant in practice and is on track to return to the starting lineup against New Orleans. ... Saints RB Darren Sproles, a former Charger, was a full participant at practice Thursday. He missed the past two games with a broken left hand but is expected to play Sunday. "He's an exceptional talent," Allen said. "He's a good runner and he's outstanding out of the backfield. He presents a lot of matchup challenges. So, obviously, that's a huge plus for them to be able to have him back."
Follow Raiders reporter Eric Gilmore on Twitter @CBSRaiders.