As a rookie in 2009 Jairus Byrd was known for one thing.
Byrd had nine in his first NFL season and at the end of that year he was an AFC selection for the Pro Bowl. As pleased as he was to contribute in such a positive way for his team so early in his career, Byrd was far from satisfied.
That first season at safety Byrd had adjustments to make. Having played cornerback for the balance of his college career at Oregon not only the responsibilities, but the angles and reads defensively were different for him in the deep middle.
Entering his second season there was also a new defensive scheme to master under new defensive coordinator George Edwards. Byrd was determined to avoid letting the system change interrupt his progress and desire to be a more well-rounded player.
Come the 2010 season fans came to expect interceptions, but Byrd did not have one until the season finale, which he returned 38 yards for a touchdown. What was overlooked was Byrd's improved play in the run front as his 88 tackles on the year placed him fourth on the team. He also led the team in forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries as Byrd showed his hitting ability.
Not much has changed in 2011. Once again Byrd's physical presence has been felt by opponents as he leads the club in forced fumbles (3) and stands second on the team in tackles behind only Nick Barnett with 85 on the season with three games to play. Suffice to say Byrd's game has rounded into form in year three.
"I think a lot of the credit goes to the coaching," Byrd told Buffalobills.com. "I think being in this defense for the second year and being a little more comfortable and having (secondary) coach (George) Catavolos stay on me about the little things. Sometimes it gets annoying and you don't like it when things are harped on, but his consistency in coaching me up has been big."
Byrd, who now has 39 starts under his belt, rarely takes false steps, isn't fooled by play action and communicates far better than he did as a rookie or second-year player.
"I think now more so a lot of it goes to having George (Wilson) back there and doing the film work that we work on," he said. "We communicate so much where if I see something on my side I'll relay it to him and vice versa. When we watch film we work so well together we share information so well it's like reading a book. It's not at that elite level yet, but we're growing and developing."
Byrd and Wilson have six of the secondary's 12 interceptions this season, with Byrd responsible for a pair.
The Bills free safety believes he's reading and anticipating the game better than he ever has before, but Byrd is still striving to be as close to perfect as possible.
"There's still an occasional hesitation where you second guess yourself a little bit, but there are also times where I just go and pull the trigger," he said. "I'm getting better, but there's definitely a different feeling between knowing (what's coming) and guessing. There's a maturation process there."
Just 25-years old, Byrd is playing wise beyond his years and it's provided Buffalo with a valuable last line of defense even if he thinks there's another level he can still reach.
"I definitely don't think I'm where I can be yet," he said. "There's a lot of growth I see out there for me."