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John DeShazier: Jairus Byrd ready to make his impact with the Saints

Star safety practiced for the first time with team

White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. – It was evident from the individual drills that Jairus Byrd was attacking on the side during the first four days of training camp, away from his New Orleans Saints teammates while Byrd was on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, that it wouldn't be long before he joined them in team drills.

There wasn't a time that his backpedals, swivels and sprints didn't flow smoothly, or a point where his ball skills appeared rusty, or a stint where his reflexes looked dull.

From Friday through Monday at The Greenbrier resort, Byrd provided the visage of a man who was ready for training camp.

Tuesday, he joined his Saints teammates in pads and drills for the first time. Byrd hadn't practiced with the Saints since signing March 11. He had back surgery this offseason and missed OTAs and minicamp.

"I felt good coming back, but it's something that we want to be smart about," said Byrd, a prized free agent signee who had 22 interceptions in five seasons as an All-Pro free safety with Buffalo. "It's a long season ahead. I just wanted to make sure I went through the steps to come back. I want to do the process right.

"Continue back in those football movements, doing those things. That's the only way you (get in football shape) is replicate those movements."

Said Coach Sean Payton: "I'm glad we did the procedure when we did, rather than try to get through the season in a maintenance mode. I know he feels better and yet, we've still got to be smart.

"We've got a lot of time and a lot of things that we've got to do, and a lot of things that he's got to be able to catch up on. But he's a quick study, he's been attentive in all the meetings. It's good having him out here."

Byrd warmly was greeted by teammates, who are eager to add his abilities to their own. The Saints forced 17 turnovers last season and with one of the emphases of training camp being to force turnovers, Saints defenders are aware of what Byrd can provide.

Byrd also totaled 11 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 33 passes defensed in his five seasons.

"We finally got Byrd-man out there today," linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "That's a great step. We have a really good defense and adding good players like him is only going to make us better. We're just ready to get him back into full swing.

"He just got a couple of reps today to see how he felt. He looked great. Can't wait to get him back out there for more reps.

"He's a great talent but not only that, he's just a great person. I got to meet him, spend time with him, went to church with him, went to lunch – just got to really know him. So I love him off the field and then on the field, I definitely love his game. What he brings, he's a ball-hawking safety. Our turnover ratio is going to go up just by having him."

Said fellow safety Rafael Bush: "We were very excited to have him back, just to see what he could do. I think he brings another good part to our defense, so we're glad to have him back.

"He's a smart player. I don't think it'll take too much of his time (to get acclimated). He's in the meeting room, he's studying, he's asking me and (safety) Kenny (Vaccaro) questions. I think once he gets out there, I think he'll hit the ground running."

For now, running – conditioning – is the hard part for Byrd. He hasn't been able to put in the football work that his teammates have, though otherwise he appears fit.

"Now it's just physically transitioning back into football shape," Payton said.

That part will take a little time, Byrd said. But there's no need to rush. The regular-season opener is Sept. 7; the window is there for the preparation to take place.

"It's a process, a transition," Byrd said. "When you watch it on the sidelines you go through the mental checks and things like that but when you're actually back there seeing it, things move a little quicker. And that's the next phase of going through things, making the right calls and adjustments.

"When you're out there, you know what you need to do to get ready. If you rush yourself, you don't do anybody any service. Rushing yourself will get (you) hurt again. So there's a balance with that.

"I just want to be an impact player. That's what I strive to be and takeaways are a part of that. So whatever being an impact player encompasses, that's what I want to be and that's what I pride myself on being."

It's the reason the Saints signed him, so he could be an impact player. For the first time since joining the franchise, he'll have an opportunity to show his teammates and coaches in person exactly what that means.

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