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Bills S Byrd following in father's footsteps

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Bills S Byrd following in father's footsteps

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Growing up, Jairus Byrd remembers the days when the new shipment of San Diego Chargers helmets would arrive.

Quick as he could, Byrd would pull one over his tiny head and wobble his top-heavy frame out the door to scamper around pretending to be his father.

``I would just run around with the helmet on for no reason, just throwing up the ball,'' the Buffalo Bills safety said. ``I just had a love for the game, because sons want to be like their dads.''

If many kids aspire to one day play quarterback, the dream was far different for Jairus. He wanted to grow up being a defensive back like his father, Gill Byrd, who established himself as one of the Chargers' premier cornerbacks over a 10-year, two-time Pro Bowl career that ended in 1992.

``When I put that helmet on, I wanted to be just like him,'' Byrd said. ``A DB.''

The family legacy for producing top-tier NFL defensive backs has entered its second generation with Byrd's continuing emergence.

He first burst onto the scene in 2009, when the second-round draft pick out of Oregon set a Bills rookie record with nine interceptions. He's since rounded himself into a more complete player.

This season, Byrd leads Buffalo with four interceptions and three forced fumbles, and is tied for second with 57 tackles. He's particularly developed a knack for making game-changing plays on a 4-6 team that still believes it can make a second-half playoff push. One that resumes at Indianapolis (6-4) Sunday.

In Buffalo's 19-16 win at Arizona last month, Byrd set up the decisive field goal by intercepting John Skelton's pass over the middle on the Cardinals' opening drive of overtime.

On Thursday, Byrd helped seal a 19-14 win over Miami. With under 2 minutes left, he burst to his right as quarterback Ryan Tannehill released a deep pass intended for Davone Bess, who had a step on cornerback Justin Rogers.

Covering some 30 yards, Byrd beat everyone to the ball by leaping head-first. He intercepted the pass and managed to land inbounds before sliding into the Dolphins bench.

``Any receiver that's ever played the game would've been proud of that catch,'' Bills coach Chan Gailey said. ``That whole play was really amazing. ... And the timing of it.''

It was a play NFL Network announcers described as ``an Ed Reed type of play,'' in reference to the Ravens star safety.

Former NFL defensive back Aeneas Williams had a different comparison. It reminded him of Gill Byrd.

``When I see him do what he does, it's once again a reminder of some of the things his dad did when he played, and some of the things his dad taught me,'' Williams said. ``And Jairus being the next generation, let's just say he has even more abilities maybe than his dad and I combined. How about that?''

Williams, who split his career between Arizona and St. Louis, is very familiar with the Byrd family. As a player, he spent offseasons being tutored by the elder Byrd. That's how he first met Jairus, who has come to call him ``Uncle Aeneas.''

Williams, who eventually took Jairus under his wing, had his first inkling of Byrd's potential while watching a high school tape.

``I think he was a sophomore,'' he said. ``And just some of the things he was doing were electrifying.''

As for now, Williams said: ``I don't know if he's scratched the surface yet.''

What the 5-foot-10 and 203-pound Byrd lacks in size and breakout speed, he makes up for with instinct. He identifies the play and has an efficiency of movement.

``I've told him, `You've got the best feet. You come out of breaks and it's no wasted steps,''' Bills veteran linebacker Bryan Scott said. ``It's bam! Gone. I'm telling you he is, to me, the best safety in the league.''

Byrd credits his father and Williams for helping him get this far - both physically and mentally.

It's one thing to have the advantage of growing up in the shadow of NFL players and coaches. Byrd also understood it was his responsibility to do something with that edge, knowing there were those wondering whether he was getting preferential treatment because of his name.

``There was always that motivation that in some ways you've got to be better than the rest because of where you come from,'' Byrd said. ``And also, I'm a competitor. So anything your dad does, you always want to try to compete with him.''

Byrd's already ahead of the pace his father established in setting the San Diego career record with 42 interceptions. Jairus currently has 17, six more than his father had after four seasons.

Gill Byrd, a Chicago Bears defensive assistant, wouldn't be upset if his son passes him.

``I know that drives him to be the one in the family to have the most interceptions in the NFL,'' he said. ``And I love it. He has a singular focus to be the best.''

That includes Byrd's approach off the field. Jairus and Gill have established a program called the Legacy Experience, to help fathers and sons build closer relationships.

``To me, that is the one thing that as a dad I'm most proud of,'' Byrd said. ``I think he understands that where much is given, much is required. And he wants to give back to people.''

Dad had plenty more to crow about after Thursday. He was alone at the Bears headquarters watching the Bills game, when he saw his son's interception.

``I was jumping around like a little school kid in the office here,'' Byrd said. ``I was just, `Wow!'''

The Byrds have a reputation for not getting overemotional, so Jairus was a little surprised to hear about his father's reaction.

``That doesn't sound like him, jumping around,'' Byrd said, breaking into a smile, realizing he did his father proud. ``But that's cool.

``That's a dad for you.''

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

Twenty-four-year-old Kaare Vedvik didn't watch his first football game until seven years ago, and now he's fighting for a spot on the Ravens' special teams roster.

Raised in Norway, Vedvik got his first glance at the game when the Super Bowl was being broadcast on Norwegian television for the first time. 

"It seemed like a really, really interesting sport," Vedvik said via The Baltimore Sun. "It was a sport I was never able to try growing up. I loved any sport that was fun, and football seemed really, really fun."

Fun enough to get the competitive soccer player to be an exchange student in the United States during his junior year of high school to test out the game of football. Vedvik returned to Norway for his senior year but impressed college recruiters enough at a Kohl's Kicking Camp in Texas that he was eventually recruited to play at Marshall University in West Virginia.

Staying in Norway would have meant giving up on sports entirely as school becomes more difficult and sports are no longer offered. Vedvik wasn't ready for that.

While at Marshall, Vedvik played in 38 games in four years as both a punter and kicker. He punted 59 times for 2,597 yards — averaging 44 yards — with 26 of them inside the 20-yard line. Vedvik once punted a 92-yarder, making it the seventh-longest punt in FBS history and the longest in 45 years. He ranked in the Top 10 for fewest punt return yards and averaged 63.6 yards-per-kickoff. 

After a private workout with Ravens special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg, Vedvik became one of 14 Ravens undrafted free agents and has impressed thus far hitting 70 and 67-yard field goals in training camp practices. And in Thursday's preseason game vs. the Rams, Vedvik hit a 56-yard field goal.

"Learning how to kick field goals, the biggest thing for me was to stop swiping across and trying to kick a straighter ball," Vedcik said. "That’s the biggest difference: In soccer, you’re trying to curve balls around a defender."

While Vedvik's chances of dethroning the most accurate kicker in NFL history in Justin Tucker and 12-year veteran punter Sam Koch are slim, he could very well make an impact elsewhere. 

“The guys who are able to do that, they’re just good athletes in general, and Kaare is a good athlete,” Tucker said of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Norwegian. “He hasn’t played a lot of football. He has plenty of ability.”

“When he came in, he’s got such a strong leg," Koch added. "You’ve got to have a strong leg in order to get looked at. He’s got a lot of talent. It’s one of those things — bringing him in, honing his skills and seeing what he can do from here.”

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What we learned from the Baltimore Ravens' 33-7 win vs. the Los Angeles Rams

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What we learned from the Baltimore Ravens' 33-7 win vs. the Los Angeles Rams

The Ravens returned to M&T Bank Stadium for their second game on the 2018 NFL preseason schedule and gave us a lot of reasons to be excited.

Joe Flacco and his new core of receivers only needed one drive to show off, Lamar Jackson put his speed on display and Robert Griffin III gave Breshad Perriman a much-needed confidence boost.

Here's what we learned from their 33-7 win over the Los Angeles Rams. 

1. First teamers make it count

It took Joe Flacco and the first-team offense all of 4 minutes and 46 seconds to get themselves on the board. During the 10-play, 70-yard drive, Flacco connected with rookie tight end Hayden Hurst, Javorius Allen, John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and finally, Patrick Ricard for a six-yard touchdown. During the impressive drive, Flacco showed his own mobility by getting out of the pocket for a three-yard gain and a classic Flacco slide. 

Flacco connecting with three of his newest receivers is what we've been waiting to see all offseason. Even though it was just one preseason drive, it's a step in the right direction after the Ravens' 2017 offense ranked 29th in the league in passing. 

"Listen, our guys are really showing up," Flacco said at halftime. "We've had a great camp, and it was good to come out here and see it carry over into a game."

"I think once the regular season starts, this isn't going to mean anything," said Flacco postgame. "But what it does for our confidence as a group, our confidence as a team, that will carry us pretty far into the season."

2. A lot of room to grow for Lamar Jackson

Jackson followed up the Ravens' successful first drive with one of his own. The rookie hit Chris Moore for a 36-yard gain before putting his footwork on display faking out several Rams defenders en route to a 9-yard touchdown run. 

While he made improvements from his Hall of Fame Game appearance, Jackson showed he still has a lot to learn, finishing the night 7-18 for 119 yards. With two preseason games under his belt, Jackson received high praise from his head coach John Harbaugh and Flacco on which he carries himself. 

"He does seem poised for a rookie," coach John Harbaugh said. "Even on the sideline, he may not know everything ... but he comes off the field and knows exactly what he did. I think he's really going to continue to blossom for that reason. He handles situations very well."

Flacco followed up on Harbaugh's comments by calling his touchdown run "pretty impressive" and said it's been good getting to talk to him on the sideline and that "he's a confident young kid... [that's been] handling himself really well."


3. A much-needed confidence boost for Perriman

The Ravens showed their former first-round pick they still have faith in him after picking up his $649K roster bonus included in the final year of his rookie contract earlier this offseason.

During last week's Hall of Fame Game, Perriman dropped a pass from RGIII that turned into an interception. However, the duo redeemed themselves against the Rams when Griffin III threw a 32-yard bomb to the back left corner of the end zone to Perriman. 

A smiling Perriman could be found in the Ravens' locker room after the win saying the play was "definitely a confidence boost" and is just thankful to finally be healthy during the preseason for pretty much the first time in his career. 

He will have to continue to fight for his spot on the 53-man roster with the additions of Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown. 

4. Williams continues to be a threat

The 2017 third-round pick followed up his strong performance at the Hall of Fame Game – where he had a total of 41 pass-rushing snaps resulting in six hurries, one QB hit and a pass rush productivity of 17.1 according to Pro Football Focus – with another stellar performance.

During Thursday's matchup, the edge rusher out of Alabama had multiple hurries and a strip sack in the third for the first sack of the preseason.

Williams was following in the footsteps of the Ravens' first-team defense who finished their opening drive with a sack from Matthew Judon on third down to force the punt and an interception in the second from Maurice Canady. 

Ravens vs. Rams Notes

— The competition at right tackle between James Hurst and Orlando Brown Jr. is heating up. Brown Jr. played into the third quarter Thursday after getting in 60 snaps during the Hall of Fame Game. Quarterback Joe Flacco praised the third-round pick saying, "You can't ignore the fact that he's got the ability. He's just so big. He swallows people up. He has the natural ability to play that position and be a really good football player, so it's just exciting to see." 

— The Ravens got two W's last night when John Harbaugh quoted THE Michael Scott when asked about avoiding the injury bug during the preseason. Harbaugh said, "I'm not superstitious, but I am a little stitious." Classic. 

— While the preseason record does not matter whatsoever, the Ravens haven't lost a preseason game since Sept. 3, 2015. They now have ten days until they head to Indianapolis to face the Colts. 

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