Cardinals safety Tyvon Branch chases down Cowboys wide receiver Ryan Switzer Monday night.
Tyvon Branch has always had a game based on speed.
In high school, he was known as a running back and outside linebacker, while winning New York state championships in the 100- and 200-meters and a national indoor title in the 60-meters. At the Scouting combine before the 2008 draft, he ran a blazing 4.31 40-yard dash.
But your speed – and everything else in your game – tends to take a hit when you tear your groin muscle, which is what the safety did last season, his first with the Cardinals after signing as a free agent. Branch actually was put on injured reserve twice, coming off after healing and then hurting his groin a second time.
Branch is healed, and fast once again. And it's made an impact on the Cardinals' defense.
"We were laughing about it this morning," coach Bruce Arians said. "I said, 'Isn't it nice to be healthy?' He's playing really, really well."
Branch had a team-best 11 tackles Monday night against Dallas. The primary defender against Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, Branch allowed Witten just a single catch. Overall, Pro Football Focus made the 10-year veteran one of the highest-rated safeties of the week, allowing just three catches to his man all night, for a measly four yards.
It's not just health that has helped Branch, though. Last season, with Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger still in place along with Tyrann Mathieu, Branch was needed more as a nickel defender rather than at his normal safety spot. While his groin injury torpedoed the season, he acknowledged the move wasn't his favorite. Getting healthy and getting to play safety is a "double-plus," he said.
"I won't say it was hard, but it's like if you are a reporter your whole life, you are going to be better at reporting," Branch added. "You go over to broadcasting, it might be a little different. I just try to put myself in the best positon. Where they put me is where they put me, but I'm a lot more comfortable at safety."
Swearinger and Jefferson left as free agents. The Cardinals signed safety Antoine Bethea, but it is Branch starting alongside Mathieu, showing Arians the talents – and the speed – that had attracted the Cardinals in the first place.
"(When hurt) you can't play to how you can play, and obviously they brought him in for a reason," cornerback Justin Bethel said. "I don't think it surprises us. We knew."
The Cardinals did hedge their bets in the offseason, getting Branch – who will be 31 later this season -- to take a paycut of $2 million (to $2 million) on the final year of his contract. Branch has only played in more than four games in a season once (16 in 2015 while with Kansas City) since 2013.
If he stays healthy, the Cardinals can use that speed, speed in which Branch still takes much pride. He said "I like to think" he can still keep up with the other lightning in the locker room, although he admits J.J. Nelson and Rudy Ford can fly.
Reminded that he chased down running back David Johnson during training camp, Branch chuckles.
"Eh, I don't know," Branch said with a shrug, "I think David just didn't see me coming."
Images of the top 10 plays from Monday night's game