ALAMEDA Whether Mike Mitchell makes his first start at strong safety won't be determined until game day as Tyvon Branch emerged from the locker room after warmups and drills and was a limited participant in practice Friday.
Branch, who has started 57 consecutive games and is recovering from a neck injury, made it to the field after the media window had closed, and coach Dennis Allen was vague about how much he was able to do.
Asked if Branch's participation was a big step forward, Allen said: "It's a better step forward. It's better than (if) he didn't practice."
Allen said Branch would be a game-time decision, and Branch, moving deliberately in the Raiders' locker room, said: "I'm not sure yet, man. It's a day-to-day thing right now."
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey did not practice with a hamstring strain and will also be a game-time decision, Allen said.
Running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson (high ankle sprains) and defensive tackle Richard Seymour (hamstring) were all ruled out of Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.
Mitchell, who has opened seven games in nickel packages but hasn't started in the base defense, is pulling for Branch but wants to show what he can do as a starter.
It's a big challenge in that the Saints' offense features tight end Jimmy Graham, a 6-foot-7 former basketball player out of the University of Miami who has 45 receptions for 533 yards and seven touchdowns and presents a nightmare matchup because he's too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers.
Taken in the second round of the 2009 draft, Mitchell remains eager to validate the decision by Al Davis to select him, a choice that astonished some draft analysts who considered him a late-round pick or potential undrafted free agent.
Mitchell has battled injuries at times, and played in different defensive packages and on special teams. He looks forward to his first crack at being a full-time player.
Notes Allen said Derek Hagan will start if Heyward-Bey can't play but Juron Criner and Rod Streat- er also will see action along with starter Denarius Moore.
Defensive-line coach Terrell Williams is at the funeral of his son, Tyson, in Florida and is expected to return Monday.
Tyson Williams, 4, died on Nov. 9 at Oakland Children's Hospital from what the team called a "sudden and unexpected illness."
Linebacker Aaron Curry received $23,625 in fines, one of $15,750 and the other for $7,875, from the NFL for two late hits against the Baltimore Ravens.
Starting linebacker Philip Wheeler received a $7,875 fine for a face-mask penalty.