ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) -Colin Branch believes his biggest strength as an NFL safety is his versatility.
He's comfortable playing strong or free safety, in coverage or against the run, and can contribute on special teams. It's those qualities that attracted the Oakland Raiders to Branch.
After signing him as a free agent last week, Branch joined the Raiders on Monday for the start of their voluntary minicamp.
``I'm a veteran guy, been around, been on a winning program out there at Carolina. Hopefully I can bring a little bit of that here,'' Branch said. ``Hopefully I can be a versatile guy who can do a lot of different things for them, which seems to be what they're asking me to do. Hopefully it'll open up my horizons a little bit and hopefully show people I can do more than just one thing.''
That versatility is especially important for the Raiders, who are keeping their safeties on the same side of the field instead of switching from strong to weak side.
Branch is currently competing for playing time behind starters Michael Huff and Stuart Schweigert in a secondary that was one of the few bright spots for Oakland last season.
``Obviously last year, they had a great season as far as the total defense and their pass defense is one of the best in the NFL, so it's a great situation to come into,'' Branch said. ``There's lots of veteran leadership out there in the defensive backfield, so it makes it a lot easier for me to come in and contribute.''
Branch came into the NFL as a fourth-round pick by Carolina out of Stanford in 2003. His best season came in 2004, when he had 55 tackles and three interceptions while making 15 starts for the Panthers.
He missed all of the following season with a knee injury, before making 19 tackles in one interception in limited duty last season. He made four starts, but played mostly on special teams and in nickel situations.
``He's a guy who can do some things and has played as well,'' coach Lane Kiffin said. ``He played some special teams, started a whole season at Carolina prior to an injury and started some games last year as well. It brings a veteran guy who has played back there to our group to see if he can help us.''
Branch, whose brother Calvin is a scout for the Raiders, first visited the team after the draft in April, working out and meeting with the coaching staff. He also visited Cincinnati, Kansas City and Atlanta before getting the offer to sign with the Raiders.

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