BYRD POISED TO SOAR

By: Sal Maiorana/Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Buffalo, NY -- Jairus Byrd understood full well that he was setting the bar ridiculously high for himself when he began his NFL career by making nine interceptions as a rookie in 2009.

 

But to go from tying for the league lead in interceptions and a Pro Bowl nomination to just one pick last season? Well, that was quite a comedown for the Bills' free safety.

 

"I think naturally, and honestly, you go in with an expectation," Byrd said of his thoughts entering 2010.

 

"You think 'Yeah, this kind of came pretty easy, let's do it again.'"

 

Instead, reality bit back in a big way for Byrd, the first Bills' rookie defensive back ever selected for the Pro Bowl, though he couldn't play in the game due to an injury.

 

Not only did a new coaching staff led by Chan Gailey and defensive coordinator George Edwards come to Buffalo, it changed the base defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Just like that, Byrd was a veritable rookie again as his duties were completely overhauled, and the adjustment and learning process took time.

 

"We changed defenses and it was required of me to do different things and I had to expand my game," said Byrd, 24, who played primarily center field in his rookie year, with far less responsibility than he had last season.

 

"Obviously the numbers didn't come, but numbers can be deceiving. I think I learned a lot about being a complete safety and being versatile, and if I keep doing that, the numbers will come."

 

Rather than patrolling the deep half and snagging errantly thrown deep balls, Byrd was thrust into a variety of situations, and he had to learn on the fly.

 

"Last year was a totally different thing, going from a 4-3 to a 3-4; there were a lot of calls and communication issues and it was a complex thing," Byrd said.

 

"Sometimes I was in the deep middle playing center field. Sometimes I could be playing half field like I did most of my first year, or I could be blitzing, covering a tight end, zone dropping the box. There was a ton of different things I had to do. That was the biggest difference."

 

However, having gone through it, the former second-round pick out of Oregon now feels comfortable, he understands the defense and his role in it, and he's ready to show that 2009 wasn't a fluke.

 

Of course, everything works hand-in-hand in football, so Byrd sees the improvement of the front seven, with the additions of players such as Marcell Dareus, Nick Barnett and Shawne Merriman, as a key to his, and the secondary's, improved play this year.

 

"We made some additions up front, and I can't wait to start jelling with them and get going," he said. "I think we have a real good group of guys and I'm excited to take steps and move this team along and get back to where we need to be.

 

"Anytime you can add people that can add some pressure and help in the run, that's huge for our defense. Once we stop the run I really believe the sky is the limit for us because we haven't been able to do that in awhile. But once you do that it opens up so many different things."

 

Gailey agreed, and thinks Byrd will be a difference-maker again.

 

"He probably, early in the year, was still feeling his way through the new defense," said Gailey. "He didn't have a lot of things to build on. He had only one year to put in the bank, so he was probably still feeling his way. But the last half of the season he really came on.

"It looks like in practice that he picked up right where he left off. I think he'll go back and have a good year."



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