The Bills coaching staff was very happy to have Jairus Byrd report to camp after agreeing to terms on his contract with the club Wednesday. Unfortunately Byrd will only be taking mental reps for a while as his non-football injury will keep him off the field following surgery, further delaying the rookie's development.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell did not have Byrd on the field for the entire spring due to his school's late final exam schedule. And though he studied the Bills defensive scheme at One Bills Drive for a week this summer with defensive backs coach George Catavolos, he missed another seven practices at camp, and won't be on the field for several more.
"When we talk about development, his development is definitely hindered because there was no OTA session on the field," said Fewell. "And he's going to miss I don't know how many, one, two weeks of camp, so he's got a lot of catching up to do."
At the very least Byrd will get mental reps watching practice and will be in all the meetings reviewing practice tape, but it can only take him so far.
"Sometimes in a film session when you're listening and listening it isn't always good enough," said Fewell. "You have to practice it and do it on the field and develop chemistry with the guys that you're working with and do it on the field. That will be a project for us that we'll just have to wait and see."
Byrd admits he was disappointed, but he's keeping his chin up as he tries to clear another hurdle before his pro career has even begun.
"I'm getting in the swing of things," said Byrd. "In due time it'll come. I'm learning patience through this process. I'll be ready in due time. I'll learn everything and be ready to go."
Still it's going to be a steep hill for Byrd to climb.
"We've installed in the first four practices an enormous amount of information," said Fewell. "So mentally he'll be spinning from the information. Mentally I don't care how sharp a guy is it can't replace the physical rep that you take in practice. The mental rep is excellent, I don't discount it, but the physical rep is also important."
By no means do the Bills blame the defensive back for what has transpired. It's just a set of unfortunate circumstances that have stacked the deck against the rookie.
"It couldn't be helped," said Fewell of Byrd's need for surgery. "It's probably in the best interest of the player to get it fixed now and hopefully we'll have him throughout the season."
Buffalo's defensive staff had high hopes for Byrd, believing he was capable of coming in as a rookie and competing for a starting job at free safety. But with so much time to make up even Byrd is unsure as to where his chances lie to land a starting role.
"I don't really know, but I know everything happens for a reason," he said. ""It's about having patience and confidence. Whatever happens that's how it's supposed to be, and I'm just going to work hard and go about my business as though I'm competing to start. So whatever happens, happens."
Fewell doesn't deny that it's going to be tough for Byrd to make up all of the time he's lost, master the defense and play at a level where he can prove he's starting caliber right away. But he's going to let Byrd determine that outcome.
"The coach in me says, 'No,'" said Fewell. "But I'm going to let the player show me whether it's realistic or not. Once he steps on the field he's got to show us what he can contribute. So I'm going to keep that expectation high and let the player dictate whether that expectation goes higher or whether I have to scale back."