Oakland Raiders rookie defensive end Tyler Brayton has epitomized the idea of baptism by fire.
The Raiders (3-10) host the Baltimore Ravens Sunday having undergone a truckload of injuries. Brayton, a first-round draft choice from Colorado, is one of only three Oakland defensive players to start at the same position for all 13 games. Brayton has manned the right defensive end position for all 13 games with somewhat predictable results.
Brayton has done some good things and, as one might expect from rookies, some not-so-good things. Injuries have caused veterans Trace Armstrong, John Parrella and Dana Stubblefield to miss significant chunks of time. Parrella and Armstrong are on injured reserve while Stubblefield returned to action last week after a five-week absence. The lack of action by those players meant Brayton would have to mature that much quicker.
“I think just being a rookie in the NFL and having to learn a lot but I wouldn’t as been kind of tough but I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult,” Brayton said. “It’s presented challenges but if anything it’s been fun.”
Brayton has amassed 49 total tackles and 1-1/2 sacks. Brayton has a reputation for being a nonstop hustler. Opponents, however, have used his aggressiveness against him for much of the season. Brayton has been a frequent target for misdirection and cutback runs. In recent games, however, Brayton has learned to maintain that aggressiveness while not over-committing to one side or the other while learning more nuances of the game.
Of course, opponents are not going to be shy about testing a rookie.
“Teams think they can block me with just one guy and try and attack me, trying to keep me playing with one hand in my back pocket to get me to try and second-guess myself,” Brayton said. “But I've definitely learned a lot. … Six inches of body position on an offensive lineman is everything. That's the difference between you getting past him and you being stuck on the block.”
Coming into the season, the perception was that the Raiders were a veteran team and youngsters would have little chance to contribute. Defensive end was an unsettled position with Armstrong and Tony Bryant coming off season ending injuries in 2002. The Raiders released Bryant before training camp began. The Raiders, however, made Brayton a starter from Day One after an impressive preseason.
“I haven’t really had time to look back at each game,” Brayton said. “I’m sure it’s something I’ll do in the offseason.”
Brayton also dismissed the notion that his rookie season was bittersweet from the standpoint of receiving personal experience coupled with a losing season.
“I think the experience I’m getting is invaluable,” Brayton said. “As far as the season has gone, I’m not at all happy with how we’ve done as a team.”
Vince D’Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org