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Raiders looking to keep Branch long-term

The Sports Xchange
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The shakeup of the Oakland defense began earlier this week, with general manager Reggie McKenzie lopping off cornerback Sanford Routt, arguably one of the NFL's most overpaid players.

There are doubtless more changes to come on a unit that one of the club's various consultants after the death of Al Davis criticized sharply and noted was in need of talent, but the Raiders will attempt to hang on to four-year veteran strong safety Tyvon Branch. There is, in fact, a possibility the Raiders could use the franchise marker on Branch, a former fourth-round draft pick (2008) who has started all 16 games each of the past three seasons, after playing mostly as a special-teams guy as a rookie.

McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen covet toughness in the secondary, and Branch provides it. He has only three career interceptions, but is solid in run support, and has averaged 112.3 tackles in his three years as a starter.

The preference would be to get a long-term extension with Branch, which would open up the possibility that the Raiders could "tag" tailback Michael Bush, but the two sides haven't made much headway in that regard yet. The safety franchise number will likely be a little north of $6 million. But McKenzie, even in cleaning up the bloated mess he has inherited, seems willing to pay that. Branch comes very highly recommended by people McKenzie trusts and will be a priority.

--Al Saunders, the Raiders' offensive coordinator under Hue Jackson in 2011, has opted to stay with the organization in the role of "senior offensive assistant."

It was a mild surprise in that Saunders, who had a year left on his contract, was allowed to interview with other teams and in fact was a candidate to be the offensive coordinator in Kansas City.

The Chiefs, however, hired Brian Daboll.

In theory, Saunders gives offensive coordinator and play-caller Greg Knapp a sounding board and knowledge of existing personnel as the Oakland offense undergoes a change.

Knapp is a proponent of a West Coast style of offense that includes possession passing and zone blocking. Saunders, 65, is from the Don Coryell tree favoring downfield passing, a style that suits incumbent quarterback Carson Palmer.

Saunders' retention would suggest Oakland will incorporate things Palmer does well into Knapp's system.

--With many potential assistant coaches tied to their contracts, the Raiders looked to the college ranks to reportedly fill three other vacancies besides the selection of Tarver as defensive coordinator.

John DeFilippo will return to his role as quarterbacks coach, having worked for the Raiders in that capacity in 2007 and 2008 before moving on to the New York Jets in 2009 and San Jose State for the last two seasons.

Oakland went without a quarterbacks coach last season, with Saunders and Jackson handling the position.

The new wide receivers coach, replacing Sanjay Lal, is Ted Gilmore out of USC. Gilmore was with the Trojans last season and Nebraska before that, at one point working for former Raiders coach Bill Callahan.

The secondary coach will reportedly be Keith Burns, who coached at Ole Miss last season. The Raiders defensive backs coaches last season were Rod Woodson (cornerbacks) and Kevin Ross (safeties).

Coaches aside from Saunders who have returned to the staff include Kelly Skipper (running backs), Steve Wisniewski (assistant offensive line) and Eric Gordon (defensive quality control).

--Wide receiver Tim Brown failed to make the final cut for the NFL Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility.

Brown was caught in a glut of wide receivers that included Cris Carter and Andre Reed -- none of which were ultimately enshrined. Given that Carter and Reed both made the final cut, Brown's wait -- despite being among the all-time leaders in catches, yards and punt returns -- could be a long one.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"From where we are, we've got some contracts that are kind of out of whack, but in discussions and viewing the cap situation, we should be fine. We don't have to make wholesale changes." -- Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie on the club's payroll and salary cap situation.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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