WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — After participating in his first Saints training camp practice on Tuesday, safety Jairus Byrd was evasive with questions about the back surgery that had sidelined him since May, causing him to miss on-field work through the offseason.
“It’s an issue that needed to be taken care — that’s all I’ll say,” said Byrd, who coach Sean Payton indicated had to go under the knife to address a problematic spinal disk.
Limited Tuesday, Byrd was much more vocal about how difficult it was rehabbing and completing strength and conditioning drills while his teammates simulated game situations at training camp practices, which began Friday at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. He felt it was equally tough to not be able to participate in voluntary organized team activities (“OTAs”) and minicamp.
“Any time you see guys out there putting in that work that’s where I want to be,” said Byrd, who lined up in a walkthrough and skeleton drills as well as served as the No. 3 punt returner on Tuesday. “I’m just thankful I got to be out here today — you appreciate the little things a lot more when you can’t do them.”
Byrd, who had been on the physically unable to perform list since Friday but was removed from it Monday, was asked how much the prospect of playing for a defense under the command of coordinator Rob Ryan factored into his decision to join the Saints on a six-year, $54 million in March after spending his first five seasons in Buffalo. Ryan is noted for his exotic schemes that feature players lining up in unconventional spots and has less-than-traditional personnel groupings — an obvious one was the penchant to utilize three safeties in 2013, when the Saints’ defense gave up the NFL’s fourth-fewest yards and points.
“Having the ability to do a lot of different things, switch things up and not necessarily just be statues out there, that’s huge,” the three-time Pro Bowler said. “That confuses a lot of offenses. That creates a lot of opportunities for people to make plays. A lot of movement and confusion: That’s a great thing that you have if you have a coordinator that utilizes those things.”
New Orleans hopes Byrd helps the Saints generate more turnovers on defense — their 19 takeaways last year were the fourth-fewest in the NFL. He leads all NFL safeties with 22 interceptions since entering the league as Buffalo’s second-round draft choice in 2009, and that’s on top of 11 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
Saints defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff on Tuesday explained that Byrd was born with his knack for turnovers, and he refined it to a degree that’s so devastating to opponents through intense studying and classroom sessions.
But Byrd insisted neither that fact nor his big money deal cause him to feel pressure as his first preseason with the Saints progresses.
“It’s not about me — it’s about our team, and I look forward to making an impact on this defense,” said Byrd, who was non-commital about appearing in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage. “That’s what I look forward to doing — whatever category that falls, whatever category that is, that’s what I look forward to doing.”