Q: What’s it like when you missed most of last season, and now you get out there and there’s a lot of new guys that you see that weren’t on the team, does it seem new?
Branch: “Not anymore. We had some OTAs [Organized Team Activities] to get used to everybody and start feeling each other out. A lot of these guys I know from around the league anyway, so it’s not really that different.”
Q: You had been one of the veterans on the defense and now you have guy with a lot of experience. How does that change things?
Branch: “We just added experience. The more experience you get out there on the field, the better.”
Q: What about leadership-wise, does the leadership aspect change now?
Branch: “No, that doesn’t change for me. I think that when I step out on that field, I always feel like a leader.”
Q: Does it help now having other leaders?
Branch: “Oh yeah, for sure. Definitely. We have guys at every position that has had a lot of success in this league. The more leaders you can get, the better, obviously.”
Q: Charles [Woodson] talked last week about how the communication was a lot better than it had been, is that what happens when you have so many veterans?
Branch: “Definitely. I think when you play this game long enough, you start to realize that the communication is a very important part of it. When you have guys that have had a lot of success in this league, they know what it takes to win and communication is a big part of it.”
Q: How did you keep yourself sane last year, not being able to play for that long of a stretch?
Branch: “It was difficult sitting out. I love the game. Like I tell you all the time, I love playing football. I had a lot of guys on the team help keep my spirits high. I stayed surrounded with positive guys like [Darren] McFadden and Marcel [Reece], those guys helped lift my spirits, so to say.”
Q: As time went on did you think you were going to wind up playing again, or was it pretty clear that it wasn’t coming back fast enough?
Branch: “I thought I was going to be able to play the last couple of weeks, but just getting out there I knew I couldn’t perform at the level I wanted to, and I think Coach [Dennis Allen] saw that when I got back and he told me to shut it down.”
Q: Did it help you through the early parts of your rehab, having that carrot out there that you might be able to play?
Branch: “I was definitely chasing the rabbit. I thought I was going to be able to get back out there, so I was pushing it every week.”
Q: Is this the most talented defense you’ve played on here?
Branch: “Talent-wise, there’s a lot of winners on our defense; a lot of guys that have had a lot of success. Guys like [Justin] Tuck and [LaMarr] Woodley. There’s a lot of great defensive players out there, so one of the most talented defenses, I can definitely say that.”Q: Having missed most of last year, are you healthier now, your whole body, and is it a blessing?
Branch: “I guess. I guess you could say that. It’s definitely a blessing just to be able to get back out there on the field and do what I love to do. Definitely a blessing with that.”
Q: What’s it like to play with Charles [Woodson]?
Branch: “I only got to play with him for two games, but going out there and practicing with Charles is easy. He knows what to look for. I don’t have to line him up. He’s one less guy I have to worry about out there, and I think he gives me a lot of tips. He always comes to the sidelines like, ‘Hey, what do you think I could have done different on this play?’ He has a lot of wisdom.”
Q: Given that you guys both have that versatility, can you guys be interchangeable?
Branch: “Oh yeah, definitely. We both play very similarly. He’s more of a ball hawk than I am, but I think I’m more of a hitter than he is, so we balance each other out. We do things differently, but we’re very versatile. We both can play inside, outside, play deep.”
Q: What were your thoughts on playing in the charity basketball game, did you feel like you were risking injury?
Branch: “I think anytime you have a chance to get out there and give back to the community, and get involved in anything charitable, I’m all for it. To me, I just wanted to get out there and have fun with the community.”
Q: Some of the guys like to play basketball in their free time anyways, so is it kind of the same thing, risking the same amount of injury?
Branch: “I guess that’s at your discretion, what you want to do in the offseason. We understand the risks that are involved in working out. Anytime you’re working out away from the facility you put yourself at risk. Guys do what they have to do to stay in shape. Everybody does it differently.”
Q: At what point were you 100 percent?
Branch: “I really didn’t know I was all the way back, until OTAs. Just getting back on the field, there’s nothing you can do to simulate football. Going through drills and stuff, you always feel healthy because you know when you’re going to break and you know where the bag’s at, and where the cone is, but it’s different when you’re going out there and reacting. I think OTAs is when I first started realizing that I was back.”
Q: What did you learn from the sidelines last year?
Branch: “Watching from the sidelines, you see things in another perspective. If I could play the game from the sidelines, I think I’d have a lot more plays under my belt. I think it helped my leadership role. Being able to lead from the sideline and not being out there and guys actually seeing you play, I think that helped me a lot.”
Q: Taking what you’ve seen from defensive coordinator Jason Tarver the last two years, plus all the new additions on defense, what kind of defense do you think you can be, and how do you fit in it?
Branch: “I think we’re going to be a talented defense, obviously, with the guys that we have. Whatever he [Tarver] wants me to do, I’m going to do it. Those are the kind of guys that we have here now, guys just want to do whatever it takes to win. I think that’s going to help us a lot on our defense.”Q: Darren [McFadden] has had his share of setbacks, are you ever amazed at how he’s able to stay so upbeat, and what’s your take on Darren?
Branch: “It’s two-fold. When he’s down we help pick him up, so when I went down, he was there to step up for me and help me get through it. We’ve built relationships off the field as well, so when you have guys like that around you, it’s hard to go into the tank.”
Q: How fine is that line where you have team veterans that know what it means to be a Raider and now you have an infusion of veterans who have won Super Bowls; how do you mesh those two thought processes together?
Branch: “The crazy thing about it is the mentality is not really different. They had the same mentality we had, they just had a little more success with it. When you get guys like that, that have done it before, they might tell you a couple of tips and things, but everybody goes out there with the same mentality. Everybody wants to win games, it’s just guys have had more success than others.”
Q: It seems that there’s a lot of confidence in this group, do you share in that attitude?
Branch: “I go out there every game with the mentality of, ‘Let’s win.’ That doesn’t change whether we’re 12-0 or 1-12, I’m going to go out there with the same mentality of ‘Let’s go out there and get this W.’ Every team I’ve played on so far, I went into the season thinking the sky’s the limit for us.”