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John DeShazier: Jairus Byrd back at Saints practice, ready to make his mark

Just a matter of time until prized free-agent signee is game ready

On Tuesday, for the first time New Orleans Saints coaches, players and fans got a chance to see Jairus Byrd fly around in a New Orleans practice jersey.

Well, not necessarily fly around, since Tuesday's work at the team's practice facility in Metairie wasn't full contact or full speed all of the time.

But it was the first time Byrd participated in full-padded team drills, the first time he didn't watch from the sideline during 11-on-11 work, the first time he delivered a blow (a hold-little-back love tap that took down running back Mark Ingram) and gave his teammates an in-person glimpse of the complete package he has been, and expects to be again.

"It definitely felt good finally to get that contact out of the way and just get back into the swing of things," Byrd said. "Adjusting to this heat out here is new.

"It felt good. Once I was cleared … like I said all along, they wanted to make sure and take it slow and they cleared me to go. I'm just working my way back, getting used to everything, still going out there and getting the contact in, doing the things I need to do to make sure I'm ready by Week 1 and this game and moving forward."

It hasn't yet been determined whether Byrd will play Saturday in the Saints' third preseason game, against Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. But the last significant hurdle to him playing – total medical clearance following back surgery this spring – has been removed.

Now, it's just a matter of time until he's game-ready.

"When you've been separated from the field work for a while and you return back to the grass, there's a little hurdle you have get over – get your lungs expanded, get your endurance back up," secondary coach Wesley McGriff said. "We thought he did a good job of that. We want to get in there and look at the video, but just from looking at it from a bird's eye view, we thought he did a good job of standing in there.

"I know one thing for certain, I didn't see him one time tap out. So he's got pretty good endurance right now. Our training staff did a good job of keeping his cardiovascular up while he was in the healing process. They did a phenomenal job with that, so he wasn't too far behind."

McGriff said that Byrd also wasn't trailing his teammates in terms of mental preparation. The three-time Pro Bowler, who was the top free safety on the free agent market, his exhibited the mental acumen that helped him earn the Pro Bowl invitations.

"(It was) just staying in the playbook," Byrd said. "I've got good coaches, Coach Crime (McGriff, nicknamed "Crime Dog") and Coach Andre Curtis – they do a great job of keeping me prepared. (And also) talking to the guys, (safeties) Kenny (Vaccaro) and Rafael (Bush). Just staying involved is the biggest thing.

"The hardest thing was having patience, because you see everything moving ahead. Guys are practicing, running around, conditioning, hitting, doing the bulk of what football is.

"It's that journey. A lot of times Coach (Sean Payton) talks about, 'Enjoy the journey.' And that's part of it. Camp, no one really likes it but it's part of the journey and seeing the guys, your teammates, go through that and not being able to do it, it's hard."

Still, Byrd didn't stray from his responsibilities.

"Jairus Byrd has done a phenomenal job of staying connected," McGriff said. "What I mean by that is, he's been very attentive in meetings, he would ask questions as if he was out there on the field playing. If you were in the meeting room, you would not be able to tell that he was not out there practicing, the way he pays attention, how he's engaged in the meeting room.

"The element is missing with him not being on the field. But he was doing a great job of standing on the sideline getting mental reps. But to see him get out on the field and move around in those drills, you could see that he has a lot of natural ability. We just have to do a good job of continuing to bring him along."

That process will be ongoing, the goal being to have Byrd totally up to speed with what the defense is doing by Week 1. And that process took a significant step forward Tuesday.

"It's really good to see him back on the grass, moving around and we're going to continue to work to get him up to speed," McGriff said.

Photos from 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon on Tuesday, August 19, 2014. Photos taken by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)

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