Originally posted on 60 Max Power O  |  Last updated 6/3/12

Oakland Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch was given the franchise tag by the team in the offseason. Now that he has signed the tender, ensuring he will be a member of the Raiders in 2012, he is looking to take his play and leadership to the next level.

“I feel comfortable here,” Branch said after Oakland's second OTAs. “I thought of myself as a leader before the tag so I'm just going to try to elevate my game and lead by example. With the new defense we got, it will give us a lot more opportunities to make plays.”

Both the Raiders and Branch are looking to take the next step in contract talks and agree on a long term deal. Branch was drafted out of Connecticut in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft and has started all 16 games the last three seasons. The 6-0, 205 pound strong safety led the team in tackles last season with 109. Because of that production, new Raiders head coach Dennis Allen likes what he sees from Branch.

“The way that he plays the game with the speed, the effort, the tenacity,” Allen said. “He enjoys playing the game of football, as well as he is as good an athlete as you could hope for. So I think, with our safeties, we’ve got pretty good athletes that we can do a lot with.”

In the offseason the Raiders brought in two new cornerbacks in Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, who along with second year man DeMarcus Van ****, will see plenty of playing time. Branch and his teammates will have to acclimate to a new defense this upcoming season with the safeties making all the defensive calls and providing leadership to the entire defense. Allen believes Branch can succeed in the leadership role.

“I think it’s still new for Tyvon,” Allen said. “He hasn’t been here a long time, but he’s developing everyday. Again, just like everything else, I want to see him take one step at a time in that leadership role and see if he can get better and better at that every day.”

Even though the Raiders have many new pieces at cornerback for the 2012 season, the safety position will be a strength for the team. Led by Branch and his continued progression, the Raiders boast one of the best safety tandems in the league. Alongside Branch, starting free safety Michael Huff played well last season and back-ups Mike Mitchell and Matt Giordano add quality depth.

Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.

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