WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. The waiting game is over, any anxiety gone.
New Orleans' prized free-agent acquisition safety Jairus Byrd came off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) Tuesday, working with the team for the first time since training camp practices began at the Greenbrier last Friday.
Byrd, a former Buffallo Bill whom the Saints signed to a six-year, $54 million deal during the offseason, had back surgery in late May, forcing him to miss all the team's offseason workouts and begin camp on the PUP list.
The Saints have remained mum about Byrd's injury, as has he.Byrd refused to answer questions about the specifics, or reveal any details about the surgery and his subsequent recovery, saying only: 'It was something that needed to be taken care of.'
'Sooner than later' was Saints head coach Sean Payton's feeling about Byrd's return, as well as the surgery.
'I'm glad we did the procedure when we did rather than try to get through the season in a maintenance mode,' Payton said.'I know he feels better and yet we still have to be smart here.'
The three-time Pro Bowler had worked individually with strength coaches since being placed on the PUP list on Friday. NFL rules allow for players to come off the list at any time providing they haven't practiced with the team.
It was frustrating for Byrd to watch from the sidelines while his teammates practiced, but he didn't want to rush back and risk further injury.
'You always want to be on the field,' he said.'That's what I do. You want to practice and get better. The only way you can get better is being out there.
'Any time you see those guys putting in that work out there, that's where I want to be and I'm just thankful that I get to be out there today,' he added.
'You just appreciate the little things a lot more when you can't do them.'
Payton said the team will remain cautious and mindful not to overwork Byrd now that he's back.
'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,' Payton said. 'But he's been attentive in all the meetings.
'It's good to have him out here.'
Byrd is clearly one of the team's vocal leaders and made his presence known, and heard, almost immediately.
'When you have your safeties on defense communicating and talking, now you're on your way to having a good football team,' defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff said.'Those secondaries that aren't noisy and (are) not communicating, then they're not going to be effective.'
The Saints had just 12 interceptions last season and have thus emphasized the need to create more turnovers, especially in the secondary. Yet, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Byrd isn't the fix-all, and the team shouldn't put too much pressure on him.
'We are going to strive to be better on these turnovers,' Ryan said. 'We have to be. It is not just a one-man job.It has to be all of us.'
The players all believe Byrd is one of the keys to improving last season's fourth-ranked defense.
'We finally got Byrd man out there today,' linebacker Curtis Lofton said.'It's a great step.We have a really good defense and adding a player like him is going to make us even better.
'I love him off the field and then on the field I definitely love his game, what he brings.He is a ballhawking safety.Our turnover ratio is going to go up by just having him and that is a plus for us.'
Quarterback Drew Brees noticed a different vibe from the defense on Tuesday and said he was cognizant of Byrd's whereabouts.
'I just know you have to be really careful with where you put the ball and how long it's in the air when he's back there,' he said. 'So instinctive, he's got a great jump on the ball in many cases, knows kind of where you're looking, where you're going; so just adds another element back there.'
Byrd is still playing catch-up, though, and has yet to reach peak physical condition, something he knows will take some time.
But that's why he's out there. The only way to get in shape, he said, is 'to replicate those (football) movements.'