AFC West: Usama Young

ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Oakland Raiders losing strong safety Tyvon Branch for an indefinite time with a reported broken right fibula would be a blow to the team under normal circumstances.

But to lose Branch the week before facing the pass-happy Denver Broncos and Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Peyton Manning on the national stage of "Monday Night Football?"

“Man, that hurts,” safety Usama Young said Monday. “Hurts the team. [Losing] a guy like that in the locker room, on the field, in meeting rooms, it’s a devastation.”

Added free safety Charles Woodson: “We’re going to be missing a good player. It’s unfortunate that it goes down like that, and it just means that somebody is going to have to step up.”

Sunday, in the Raiders’ 19-9 defeat of Jacksonville, Young and Brandian Ross performed admirably after Branch was lost midway through the first quarter. He was injured blitzing Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne.

And the way Raiders coach Dennis Allen sees it, while there might be calls to move Woodson to strong safety and start Young at free, the Raiders’ safety positions are “interchangeable” anyway.

“I think I’ve got confidence in all three of those guys that are back there,” Allen said, referring to Woodson, Young and Ross.

Besides, the Raiders figure to be in nickel packages most of the game against the pass-first, ask-questions-later Broncos.

“Yeah, we’ll be in nickel a lot, but I believe we have smart players and guys that can go in and know what’s expected of them, know what to do,” Woodson said. “So we won’t have to, our game plan, we won’t have to alter it all with the guys that go in.

“We look forward to going down there with our full arsenal of plays and just have to stick different guys in there to implement it. So we feel comfortable with that.”

Against the Jaguars, Woodson led the Raiders with six tackles, including the defensive play of the game, when he leapt over a pile to bring running back Maurice Jones-Drew down inside the 5-yard line.

Ross added three tackles with a sack and a quarterback hurry while Young had three tackles, 1.5 sacks, a tackle for a loss and two quarterback hurries.

Henne, though, is no Manning.

“The one thing that’s crazy against Peyton is he’s seen it all,” Young said. “Dude is real. (There’s) not too many ways you’re going to be able to surprise him, or confuse him. Just showing as many looks and blitzing him, pressuring him and whatever we do, we’re going to try to mix it up.”

Just without Branch.

Locker Room Buzz: Oakland Raiders

September, 15, 2013
OAKLAND -- Observed in the locker room after the Oakland Raiders' 19-9 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Keeping perspective: As feel-good a loss as last week’s defeat in Indianapolis was for the Raiders, this home-opening victory over the woeful Jaguars was just as much a cautionary tale. Sure, players were happy, and they should be after getting an NFL victory, but too many times the Raiders played down to their level of competition.

A stark development: Tyvon Branch was lost in the first quarter to an ankle injury that coach Dennis Allen said looks to be “significant.” It was a stark announcement paralleled by the starting strong safety’s empty locker. “I just saw him in the trainer’s room, all iced up,” said safety Usama Young.

Media crush: It was hard to tell who was in the middle of a bigger media circus -- running back Darren McFadden, free safety Charles Woodson or quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Offensive lineman Andre Gurode, though, joined the media crush for Pryor’s scrum and yelled out a question: “Excuse me, everybody wants to know where you got that polka-dot shirt.” The nattily-attired Pryor’s response? “He’s jealous.”

Teaching moments: The game does not end with the final gun. Center Stefen Wisniewski and right tackle Tony Pashos emerged from the shower, with towels on, only to stop in the middle of the locker room to go over a certain alignment.
Some Oakland minicamp notes:

According to several reports, the Oakland offense struggled Tuesday in its first day of minicamp. My thoughts? Check back in August. If this continues in training camp, it will be an issue. Otherwise, all it was was a bad day in June.

Rookie running back Latavius Murray did not practice due to a foot injury. The sixth-round pick was impressive in previous sessions.

There is no doubt Charles Woodson is making his presence felt in Oakland’s secondary. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that fellow free-agent signee Usama Young isn’t getting much work with the first-team defense. That is no surprise -- Woodson has more to offer. However, because he is 36, Woodson likely won’t be a full-time player -- meaning that Young should have a role.

UPDATE: Alabama coach Nick Saban said former Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain is attending classes at the school. He retired from the NFL at the age of 23 last month. Oakland cut him this offseason.

New Oakland kick returner Josh Cribbs is not expected to return from a knee injury until training camp.

In a year of rebuilding there is no question the area in which the Oakland Raiders have most improved is in the secondary.

Oakland had perhaps the worst secondary in the NFL last season, especially at cornerback. But in the midst of rebuilding with younger and cheaper players, Oakland has boosted the position.

Oakland completed its improvement by signing safety Charles Woodson last week. It previously added Usama Young, who was cut by Cleveland.

At cornerback, Oakland added free agents Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter. Oakland drafted cornerback D.J. Hayden with the No. 12 pick.

Hayden just had surgery to repair scar tissue in his stomach after having a life-threatening heart surgery last November. He is not set to return to training camp, which starts late next month. Assuming Hayden recovers on time, he and Jenkins will likely get the first crack at starting with Porter being looked in as a No. 3 cornerback.

Jenkins and Porter have had similar career paths. They were considered solid players early in their careers, but their play has dipped in recent seasons. Still, they represent an improvement.

“The new cornerbacks are man-to-man guys, who will be aggressive. Woodson still has some football left. It should be better,” ESPN’s Matt Williamson said of the Raiders' secondary. “Oakland has some real pass-rush problems, which will hurt this group. But I’d now say it is slightly below average in the secondary, which is a big improvement from where the Raiders were last year.”
The Oakland Raiders made most of the headlines in the division last week while I was on vacation. The Raiders made several signings, and like earlier moves, these moves are inexpensive additions in an attempt to fill the roster.

Let’s review some of the moves.

One of the moves, of course, that stood out was the signing of former Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins. Like former Denver cornerback Tracy Porter, who was previously signed, Jenkins is projected to start this season after signing a one-year deal.

Both players have had NFL success but both fell into backup roles. Still, I like the two signings for Oakland on a short-term basis. They have experience and they will compete. It’s a better pairing than the Ron Bartell-Shawntae Spencer pairing to start last year.

I do not think the Jenkins signing means Oakland will definitely bypass Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner at No. 3. These signing are show-me deals for the team. Oakland still has big long-term needs at cornerback.

The signing of former Cleveland safety Usama Young should help as well in the short term. In the grand scheme, Young is an average player, but he played for Oakland head coach Dennis Allen in New Orleans, and he has experience. It’s all about filling the roster with as many capable players as possible and Young is capable.

The re-signing of pass-rusher Andre Carter also makes sense. He gave the team some burst after signing during last season and he is a leader. He will have a limited role, but Oakland needs all the pass-rush help it can get.

I wasn’t overly impressed by the signing of backup running back Rashad Jennings. He is simply a backup. We all know Darren McFadden’s injury history. I doubt Jennings can be an effective starter.

Also, it was interesting that Oakland worked out former NFL starting quarterback Vince Young. Oakland is looking for a veteran backup quarterback, so perhaps Young could end up getting another chance there. I’m not one to think Young can be an effective player, but if Oakland is intrigued, perhaps it will give him a chance at some point.

AFC West links: Will Chiefs draft a guard?

April, 10, 2013
Denver Broncos

"I'd say there's a 33 percent chance the Broncos will draft a running back in the first round," writes The Denver Post's Mike Klis, who considers the position to be one of the top three needs for Denver.

Gray Caldwell of takes a look at five of the top draft prospects at the inside and outside linebacker positions.

Oakland Raiders

Defensive end Andre Carter said via conference call with the media that he was optimistic he would be re-signed by the team this offseason, despite the many changes to the Raiders' coaching staff.

The Raiders were a busy bunch on Tuesday, closing out the day by signing free agent safety Usama Young and re-signing slot cornerback Joselio Hanson.

Linebacker Rolando McClain, the No. 8 overall pick by Oakland in 2010, is reportedly working on a contract with the Ravens.

Kansas City Chiefs

A guard has never been selected with the first pick of the NFL draft, and the Kansas City Star's Randy Covitz says, "If ever there were a year for a guard to go first overall, this could be it." Will the Chiefs make it happen?

The Chiefs have contacted veteran offensive lineman Ryan Lilja about playing another season, and he was receptive to the idea, according to Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star. Lilja, who is still rehabbing from surgeries on his knee and toe, is not likely to sign a deal soon, the newspaper reports.

Reid Ferrin of the team's website profiles USC quarterback Matt Barkley as a draft prospect.

San Diego Chargers

While the Chargers are in need of a legitimate left tackle to protect Philip Rivers' blind side, guard might be in even worse shape, reports's Chris Wesseling.

Ricky Henne of the team's website profiles Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long.
Oakland’s expected visit with cornerback Mike Jenkins took place Tuesday. Earlier in the day, the team agreed to terms on a one-year deal with former Denver cornerback Tracy Porter.

The Raiders need another starting cornerback. Jenkins has some interest from Buffalo and Jacksonville, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up in Oakland.

Meanwhile, now that the Carson Palmer issue has been resolved with his trade to Arizona, I wonder what will become of the Rolando McClain situation. The linebacker is not expected back. His agent has reportedly asked to seek a trade, but there has not been any reported interest. If he is not traded, he will in all likelihood be cut. There is no timeline, and Oakland is clearly not in a rush to do anything.

New Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn talked about his journey to Oakland in his introductory press conference.

Oakland could potentially look at safety Usama Young, who was cut by Cleveland. Raiders coach Dennis Allen was his position coach in New Orleans, and Oakland needs help at safety.

In other AFC West notes:

The family of the late Junior Seau offered ESPN The Magazine a special look at a photo album of his life. The legendary San Diego linebacker committed suicide last May at the age of 43.

The Chiefs cut lineman Rich Ranglin.