It was family day at Raiders camp. They took the field to the sounds of “We Are Family”. And they were taking that field having lost one of their own. Legendary Hall of Fame worthy wide receiver Cliff Branch passed away Saturday at the age of 71. Branch was a fixture as a Raiders great. He spent his entire 14-year career with the team, winning three Super Bowls, and was seen at a great many Raiders functions.
Upon arrival at Raiders camp there were a few number 21s that weren’t Gareon Conley. Wearing white number 21s for the offense were receiver Tyrell Williams, whose dad is a big time Raiders fan. And Derek Carr, a Bakersfield native whose uncle once suited up for the Raiders for a short stint.
On defense, Vontaze Burfict and Lamarcus Joyner both were wearing black 21 shirts. As were a couple of coaches including Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia, wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett and assistant defensive backs coach Taver Johnson.
“I’d like to just acknowledge that we’re really going to miss Cliff Branch,” said Jon Gruden. “Just terrible, terrible loss to the Raiders and football and everybody that knew him. A bunch of our players paid tribute to him today and our prayers are with him and his family. That’s a big loss for us.”
Last night, Gruden had the players take time out of their team meetings and watch film of Branch in his heyday.
“That was great, you know,” Gruden said of the film session. “He was a good friend. A good friend of mine and has been over the years. A good friend of everybody’s. I never saw Cliff Branch when he was down. He was always upbeat, great player, but I think our players have a good respect for who he was.”
“I think the message is, number one, just give him his respect. Have a moment of silence and enjoy life while you’re here. Life is way too short. We never expected to lose Cliff when we did and that was the message honestly, and let’s try to go out there and represent what he would want us to do.”
Those kinds of moments make a strong impression on the players. Especially young players who maybe aren’t as familiar with how the Raiders honor their former players. Rookie running back Josh Jacobs was impacted by it.
“He just stressed family and the team as a family and paying homage to the people that came before you,” Jacobs said of Gruden’s approach. “[Branch was] one of the greatest receivers to never be in the Hall of Fame right now. He (Gruden) just pays homage to him and then not only that we study a lot of the older guys and things like that and he’s around practices talking to people and things like that. So we have players that actually have relationships with him. It’s a tragic situation.”
It’s interesting even the young rookie mentions that Cliff Branch was never inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s a stain on the Pro Football Hall of Fame that players like Branch and Ken Stabler never got to have their moment in Canton. Stabler was inducted a year after his death and Branch figures to be headed for the same fate. If they induct him at all, that is.
“He never missed a game, three [time] Super Bowl winner,” Gruden said of Branch’s Hall of Fame bonafides. “Possibly one of the top three or four deep receivers that I’ve seen play. I think he should be in, but that’s for another day.”
I would say it’s not for another day. Today seems like the perfect day for that conversation. But that’s just me.
Defensive play of the day
We have our first interception! It came from Erik Harris. Mike Glennon dropped back and look right and threw it right into Harris’s waiting arms. Hard to tell where the ball was supposed to go, but Harris was in the right place at the right time to pick it and he had an entourage to the end zone.
Catch of the day
It wasn’t a high flying day. They took it easy for the most part. Most players barely broke a sweat. They had their families waiting for them after practice. That being said, Foster Moreau had a pretty good catch, getting behind Kyle Wilber to make an over-the-should grab from Nathan Peterman. Unfortunately a couple plays later, he got Peterman sacked when safety Curtis Riley got by him on the blitz. So, give and take.
It was a light day for a few Raiders players. Jalen Richard was limited with a groin injury, Darren Waller returned after missing Saturday’s practice with a shoulder issue, but he didn’t do anything following warmups, and Tyrell Williams also sat out following warmups.
Antonio Brown was not out there, still dealing with his mysterious foot shedding issue. Others still out were Paul Butler (undisclosed), Gabe Wright (knee), Eddie Vanderdoees (concussion) and Quinton Bell (undisclosed). And of course Denzelle Good (back) is on PUP and Keith Smith (knee) is still on NFI.