As a rookie he made the Pro Bowl thanks mainly to an unanticipated nine-interception season as Buffalo's opportunistic free safety. Jairus Byrd was honored to be selected, but knew his all-around game was not there yet. In 2010 and 2011 Byrd's run support, tackling and playmaking skills went beyond just defending the pass leaving him primed for a breakout season in 2012.
Following his eye-opening rookie season, Byrd was dead set on improving his angles of entry on plays happening in front of him. Too often as a rookie he did not put himself in proper position to make plays. As a result his game was one-sided as it leaned heavily toward his exploits in defending the pass.
Byrd's season totals from 2010 showed noticeable improvement in run support and tackling. He vaulted himself from 15th on the team in tackles as a rookie to fourth the following season. The free safety doubled his tackle total from 42 to 88. He also led the team in forced fumbles with three and was tied for the lead in fumble recoveries.
Outside observers however, only looked at his one interception on the year and wondered if he had made progress. In 2011 Byrd raised his game another notch finishing third in tackles, tied for second in INTs and first in forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.
"He has a knack for forced fumbles," said Bills secondary coach George Catavolos. "In 2010 he had a number of forced fumbles even though he had only one interception. We didn't get all of them. Then he had more this past season."
Byrd, like most players, wants to raise his playmaking skills to another level, but believes the best way to accomplish that at this point in his career is in the film room.
"I always want to continue to do what I do, get my hands on balls," he said. "I want to score when I get interceptions. I want to get more turnovers and punch the ball out, but I think the mental part of the game is big. Anytime you start progressing the thing that separates you is just anticipation and just the mental part of the game. That can develop along with the physical stuff, but the mental game is what takes you over (the top)."
Influenced in part by fellow safety George Wilson, who carved out an NFL career due to his relentless preparation and knowledge of their scheme and the opponent, Byrd strives to be just as knowledgeable.
One area of his game where the free safety is looking to make strides this season is not being fooled by opposing quarterbacks when defending the pass.
"He's one of those guys where the quarterback will look him off and he'll jump on a route sometimes, so he's got to get more disciplined there," said Catavolos. "He has a tendency to jump at the first look."
Byrd is working on identifying opposing quarterback look-off patterns on film, knowing that's all he can work on at this point.
"On film you get to know where they're at and it also goes a little bit more toward seeing the bigger picture," he said. "You kind of get a feel for knowing where people are positioned, where the hot keys are. If he's looking one way and nobody is really over there you know he's trying to get you to move there, so you have to be smart about it."
Byrd knows playmakers have to take risks. He just wants to take the risk when the chances for reward are high. With an improved pass rush this season Byrd expects more opportunities.
"When they're getting consistent rushes you know how long that quarterback has," Byrd told Buffalobills.com. "You kind of get that clock in your head as a defensive back where you say, 'Okay if the ball is not out I know it should be coming out now.' So you can sit there and take those calculated risks. But we still have to feel it out and see how they're doing."
Like everyone else on the defensive unit, Byrd is trying to keep his excitement for the season in check. There is still a lot of ground to cover in training camp before the defensive unit coalesces and performs as a consistent group. Still Byrd has been in the NFL long enough to know promising potential when he sees it.
"I think we can be as good as we want to be," said Byrd. "It's on us. As long as we do the right things and if we can stay healthy we can do big things."
And Byrd's game could be the biggest beneficiary.