“Why so curious?” (To borrow from Bills’ WR Stevie Johnson and from the late Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker.)
Because the NFL is a business. A serious business.
Buffalo Bills fans were scratching their heads and firing shots at each other over the sports bar this past season on what happened to their 2009 Pro-Bowler, Jairus Byrd.
In fact, in that season, Byrd had a streak of three straight multi-interception games, which hadn’t been done in the NFL since 1960. He had five straight games with at least one pick, which made him just the second player to accomplish that since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. He finished runner-up to Houston’s Brian Cushing for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award, (twice), and he was selected to the Pro Bowl, the first Bills’ player to earn that honor since Nate Clements in 2004, and the first Buffalo rookie to do it since Greg Bell in 1984.
In 2009, the “Byrd was the word:”
Those are some extraordinary accolades; it’s understandable that there was a lot of Buzz around Byrd going into the 2010 season. But Byrd fell from the sky in that year. What exactly happened? Well, a change in defensive approaches was one thing.
From the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:
“My responsibilities have changed,” he said. “I’m not in the middle as much as I was last year. I’m in the box more doing things, playing the run, covering receivers.”
Strong safety Donte Whitner knows what that’s like. Throughout his first four years when Dick Jauron was the coach, Whitner was asked to do a variety of things in Jauron’s passive Cover Two defense, and it affected his ability to roam around and make interceptions, a freedom that is afforded to players such as Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and Baltimore’s Ed Reed.
Indeed, Byrd has wings, and he should be free to stretch them out on the playing field – but maybe just not yet. Coach Chan Gailey has a more careful approach to defending the pass with young players.
“I don’t want to get carried away with statistics, and to be honest with you, the nine picks were an anomaly,” said Gailey. “That doesn’t normally happen to a guy right off the bat and it happened to him. So, everybody sets the bar there and it’s almost not fair to him.
” … He doesn’t have the statistics that he had last year, but he’s a very good player and he’s going to be a very good player for a long time.”
Gailey is right. Even with Byrd’s historical 2009 run with the Bills, he’s still a work in progress. Rookies shouldn’t be thrown into the middle of the defensive storm – even the best need to be groomed, and to be taught some of the more subtle secrets of the higher-speed higher-impact rhythm of the NFL game.
After all, football is a game of inches, fractions, or split-split-second decisions. Gailey didn’t want Byrd to lose confidence in his second year. NFL coaches had a whole season of tape on Jairus, and make no mistake – they would have exposed him in his sophomore big league season.
And with that approach, Whitner is not worried either.
“Last year they didn’t give him a lot of responsibility, and now this year he’s in a whole new defense,” said Whitner. “It’s almost like it’s his rookie year again. You change terminology, change his responsibilities, and he has to learn the things he didn’t learn last year, and then incorporate those things into this defense and still learn in this defense. He’s doing fine.”
Give Jairus another season, or maybe just a few more games under Gailey and Co., before it’s time to send a Bills rendition of this song over to WGR 55:
NFL teams will be soon enough be loathing that sentiment “little Byrdy fly away, and don’t you come back no other day, shoo! There’s a Byrd on me.”
Just give him time to truly spread his wings.