Last year Bills safety Jairus Byrd was a household name for the nine interceptions he made. Being named to a Pro Bowl in his first NFL season and finishing second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, Byrd was quickly known as a turnover machine. This season, the second-year safety is finding it harder to get interceptions, but not turnovers. In the last three games, he has forced three fumbles, including a recovery.
Jairus attributes his recent success of forcing fumbles to his work off the field.
"Just knowing and studying film, knowing ball security and watching how guys hold onto the ball," said Byrd.
He has also improved a key part of any defensive players' game, tackling. While Byrd had 45 tackles last year, he has already accumulated 71 tackles with three games still left to play, which ranks him fourth best on the team.
"He's certainly making a lot more tackles than I think he made last year, but we're also asking him to do different thing this year," said head coach Chan Gailey.
Last year, Byrd admitted it was a difficult transition to make from playing cornerback in college to moving to safety in the NFL. He noted that it was hard to get the right angles being in a different position on the field and that the angles he took were inconsistent. He feels now, his angles have improved dramatically and we can all agree by the results we see on Sundays.
"I think it has improved by just playing the position," said Byrd. "This is my second year playing the position. I played corner in college so it is something that does not happen overnight. It is a learning process and I am learning from guys that have played the position their whole career."
The added experience he says, has given him a big boost of confidence and his comfort level playing safety.
"I think it is getting better," said Byrd. "Every time you step out there in that position it helps. I think that that has been a major thing this year, being out there, knowing what to expect and being able to learn."
Byrd realizes that a lot of his success is due to the new defensive scheme the Bills have implemented this year with new head coach Chan Gailey and defensive coordinator George Edwards.
"I think it is playing within the scheme," he said. "When you are able to be in position, you know where everything and how things should unfold and if the ball pops out, where to expect it."
The defense the Bills have in place, puts a lot of responsibility on the safeties and they are expected to contribute not only in the passing game, by are asked to make plays defending the run.
"I think it is just our defense," said Byrd. "Really our safeties are counted on in the run game and you are asked to do a lot. Our safeties have to be versatile so I think that plays a big part of that (increased tackles)."
"I think his overall knowledge of the game is a lot better in year two," said Gailey. "I think the understanding of his job is getting better each week. I expect him to be a very good player for a long time around here."
The new defensive scheme also gives the coaching staff flexibility in getting the matchups they want and that has the safeties moving around a lot depending on the different packages the coaches want to employ.
"The new defensive scheme allows you to do a lot of different things," said Byrd. "You might be in the box one play, playing the run, and then you might be in the deep middle, or playing halves, or covering receivers and tight ends. It allows you to do a lot of different things."
This Sunday, the Bills take on division rival Miami Dolphins and since both teams are very familiar with one another, Byrd has an idea of what he will see come game time.
"The Miami offense… they are what they are," he said. "They are going to do some Wildcat, they are hit with some injuries so we expect them to pound the ball like normal with their two running backs. They will try to play a possession game, try to keep the ball and play field position so that is what we expect."
With the Dolphins being tenth in the league in rushing attempts, good fundamental tackling will be key for the Bills this game. With Byrd's improved overall play this year, look for him to be a key player Sunday for the Bills defense.