Bills Notebook: Byrd will compete at safety
Jairus Byrd (Getty Images)
Jairus Byrd (Getty Images)

Posted May 11, 2009


Second-rounder to move to safety, Nic Harris adjusts to linebacker, Buffalo mourns loss of Kemp and more...

Byrd projects as safety

When the Bills used their 42nd overall pick in the draft to select Oregon's Jairus Byrd, eyebrows were raised in the team's media room.

Wasn't Byrd a cornerback and weren't the Bills set at the position with veteran star Terrence McGee and last year's first-round pick Leodis McKelvin?

"Yes" and "yes" are the answers. But the Bills don't want Byrd to play corner, they want the rugged 5-10, 207-pounder with glue-like hands to play free safety.

Ko Simpson, a fourth-round pick in 2006, has started the past three years but has just two interceptions and five pass breakups in 33 career games. The Bills want more range and production out of their center fielder, and are willing to give Byrd every chance to earn the job.

"They want to start me out there and just let me go," said Byrd, who took part in the Bills' rookie minicamp and will return on May 18 when organized team activities begin.

"I think it's great. I'm just looking for however I can to help the team win games, so I'm excited."

Harris adjusts to linebacker

Rookie LB Nic Harris is among four draft picks the Bills liked for their versatility. He played safety at Oklahoma but is projected as an outside linebacker by the Bills. Is Harris comfortable with the switch? "I'm comfortable with being on the field," he said. Harris, who is 6-2, 234, played what he called an "inverted" safety position in college, coming up on the play to cover a variety of receivers and help against the run. Playing linebacker will require him to learn angles, setting his feet and fending off blocks.

"That's pretty much what I didn't have to deal with playing safety, you're pretty much playing in space," he said. "I just have to make sure I get stronger and get in the weight room and understand my schemes."

Maybin adds to list of Nittany Lions turned Bills

DE Aaron Maybin, Buffalo's first-round draft pick, was just the second player in team history selected No. 11 overall. The first was CB Leodis McKelvin last year.

Maybin was the 20th player drafted out of Penn State by Buffalo, breaking a tie with Notre Dame for most picks from one school. The Big Ten has featured the most first round choices (10) and overall selections (52) in team history.

Thirty players attend rookie camp

Last weekend's rookie camp was Grand Central Station at One Bills Drive with 30 players invited on tryout arrangements joining draft picks and college free agents with contracts. Many players could earn contracts from those that tried out and be added to the roster in time for organized team activities with veterans that start May 18.

"The benefit is that they're all people that we've either worked out before or kind of liked," coach Dick Jauron said. "It fills out the squad on both sides, even just for walk-through and for the show team. We don't do a lot of team work for a number of reasons. We really want to focus on the coaching and we look at them athletically in their individual drills. But really the number, there wasn't a specific number we were chasing. (Pro scouting director) John Guy had a number of people that he thought deserved a second chance, so we looked at them, and college free agents, too."

Sanborn gets his shot at long-snapper

Among the tryout players earning a two-year contract was long snapper Garrison Sanborn of Florida State. He was in Tampa Bay's rookie minicamp last season and was working as a systems support analyst for a chain of Tampa Bay hospitals when the Bills gave him a call. Sanborn was torn because Buffalo's rookie camp came on the very same weekend his older sister, Maureen, was getting married and he was a groomsman.

But with his sister's blessing, he came to Buffalo and now will be able to chase his NFL dreams. He told The Tampa Tribune that things happen for a reason. The Bills have a veteran long snapper in Ryan Neill, who at 6-3, 253 pounds is stouter at the point of impact than Sanborn, who is 6-0, 240. But the Bills like to create competition at all positions and Sanborn has an above-average snap speed.

"They want competition, and I want to compete," Sanborn said. "They say the best player is going to play, and I have to show them that I'm the best player. It's strange because it's something that I've been imagining my whole life. Then an opportunity happens, and it's almost like it's not real. When I think about how understanding my sister has been, how great my work has been, how could I not be fired up to give this every bit of determination that I have?"

Buffalo legend passes away

The Bills are mourning the death of quarterback-turned-Congressman Jack Kemp, who died of cancer at age 73. Kemp was an iconic figure in both sports and politics.

"Jack remains a legendary figure in our team's history," the Bills said in a statement. "His many outstanding unique qualities made him the exemplary role model of leadership for our team and later for our country."

Kemp led the Bills to back-to-back championships in the old American Football League in 1964 and '65 and was lauded for his outstanding leadership skills that later served him well as an influential politician. Kemp, who was 6-1, 200 pounds when he played, could throw the ball 75 yards and was a prolific runner, scoring 40 rushing touchdowns. Only Hall of Famers Otto Graham (45) and Steve Young (43) scored more in U.S. pro football history.

His true legacy is what he did for the less fortunate, championing benefits for fellow players and beating back prejudice in urban housing. Kemp is a member of the Bills' Wall of Fame but retiring his No. 15 is long overdue. Jim Kelly's 12 is the only officially retired number and 32 (O.J. Simpson) isn't issued.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought that it'd be snowing when I got off the plane, but the weather's not too bad. I'm liking it so far." -- Rookie tight end Shawn Nelson, who grew up in Louisiana, when asked about his impressions of Buffalo.



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