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Raiders S Ross to start in place of injured Branch

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) - Oakland defensive back Brandian Ross made a fairly smooth transition from cornerback to safety this past offseason.

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Trying to stop Denver quarterback Peyton Manning? That's an entirely different challenge.

Ross was picked as the Raiders' starting strong safety Friday, ending a week's worth of speculation over how the team would compensate for the loss of injured Tyvon Branch.

Not bad for a player who went undrafted out of college two years ago and was on Green Bay's practice squad at the beginning of last season. Ross has only one other start in his NFL career, which came at cornerback in the 2012 regular-season finale.

``It's the perfect timing for me to make an impact on this team,'' Ross said. ``We're going to go out and do what we have to do. To have it come Monday night against Peyton Manning, it's the perfect opportunity.''

Ross was pressed into duty after Branch injured his ankle in Oakland's 19-9 win over Jacksonville last week.

The exact nature of Branch's injury or how long he might be out is anyone's guess. Oakland coach Dennis Allen, following a pattern established during training camp, has declined to get into specifics about the situation.

Branch's injury created a gaping void in the Raiders' secondary. He had started 64 games over the past four-plus seasons and led the team in tackles in 2010 and '11.

Ross has just 16 games of NFL experience and has spent most of his time on special teams.

If not for his ties to Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, who worked with Ross in Green Bay, the former Youngstown State DB might still be buried on some team's practice squad.

``Going against a great quarterback, I'm focusing and I'm ready,'' Ross said. ``(Manning) definitely makes it challenging, so you have to play with great eyes and not try to anticipate too much, try not to guess.''

Ross played safety in college, but the Packers and Raiders both tabbed him as a cornerback. A dearth of safeties on the roster in the offseason convinced Oakland's brass to move Ross back.

``That's my natural position ... well, to me at least,'' Ross said. ``Corner was just something that I was able to do, that I'm capable of playing.''

Ross made an impact for Oakland after Branch got hurt in the first half against Jacksonville. He had three tackles and a hurry and got his first career sack.

The Raiders could have started Usama Young in Branch's spot. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, however, felt good enough about Ross that he opted to go with the young defensive back instead of the veteran Young.

``To be the best you have to beat the best,'' Tarver said. ``This is why you play the game. `Monday Night Football' against them doing something nobody thinks you can do? There's nothing better than that.''

Notes: LG Lucas Nix (ankle) was limited in practice and took reps with the first-team offense but is still questionable. If Nix cannot go, five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode is expected to get the start. ... OL Menelik Watson (knee) and TE David Ausberry (shoulder) did not practice.

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Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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