Nothing makes NFL players value their ability to get onto a pro football field every week quite like being forced to watch games on television like regular people do, New Orleans Saints safety Jairus Byrd has learned since suffering a season-ending knee injury in early October.
“It’s definitely a different perspective, (and) it’s not something that I like,” said Byrd, who is recovering from surgery to repair a lateral meniscus he tore in a non-contact drill Oct. 2, in a telephone interview Friday. “It’s tough to watch the games — you want to be out there.”
But aside from the fact that he remains a professional athlete, there’s one key difference separating Byrd from a typical fan. He’s in direct contact with the players he roots for through the TV — and, because he certainly knows what he’s talking about, they actually listen to his suggestions.
“He’s not a three-time Pro Bowler for nothing,” said Saints cornerback Corey White, who explained that he lives up the street from Byrd and has visited him to share notes about football, play video games or chat about life in general. “He knows a lot — he’s very smart ... and when he was out there, he got us all lined up and knew all the calls.”
Evidence about that was there for anyone who looked. Though the snap eventually ended up in a long reception that set up a game-winning field goal for the Browns in a 26-24 defeat at Cleveland in Week 2, Byrd gave New Orleans a slight chance to stop that play by ordering a teammate to get on an uncovered receiver.
He displayed similar awareness in a loss at Dallas in Week 4 by noticing Cowboys receiver Devin Street was wide open, then rushing over to him to swat away a quick, lobbed pass that could’ve gone for a score.
Byrd added to his career total of takeaways (27) by forcing a fumble that White recovered at the goal line during the Week 1 loss at Atlanta.
Nonetheless, after hurting himself going for a one-handed interception in practice, Byrd has been a spectator while the Saints have won three of their past four games to fight back to the .500 mark at 4-4. That’s not what anyone envisioned for a veteran who entered the league in 2009 and whom the Saints acquired in free agency in March with a six-year contract worth up to $54 million (more than $26 million of which was guaranteed).
But Byrd is attempting to make the most of his situation, a lot of which involves twice-a-day rehab sessions but some of which still allows him to help teammates in whatever way he can. Helping takes the form of viewing the games from afar and then sharing his observations in conversations with the defensive backs, including White and Rafael Bush, who has stepped into the starting lineup in Byrd’s place.
The experience is strange for Byrd.
“I get excited like everybody else, but just because I know the (schematic) things that are going on, the things that are playing out ... I don’t overreact like a normal fan,” he said. “I won’t say, ‘What are you doing?’ and get mad. It’s just understanding that, honestly, the player out there isn’t trying to make a mistake or do something wrong. It’s like ... (I’m) more even-keeled.”
Yet he doesn’t mind it all that much because that represents an opportunity to keep a promise he made to his teammates when he arrived in New Orleans.
“I’m here to help in any kind of way — all the guys, I told them that since Day 1,” said Byrd, who also extolled Bush’s performances as ones any veteran would be proud to deliver. “(I) share whatever I see ... because I get excitement with them performing well and doing well.”
Count Bush among those most grateful for Byrd’s outlook as he navigates the rest of a first year in New Orleans that didn’t develop as planned.
“Just a very positive person,” Bush said. “(He’s) the same person he was before he got injured, and that’s always good.”