As the first roster cuts are upon us I thought we could break down some players that have chances of making the roster & their battles getting there. I think Wide Receiver / Returner Damiere Byrd is a good starting point.
I have gone back through the first two pre-season games with Baltimore and Tennessee and picked almost every play from Byrd on film from those games to turn into gifs to do this breakdown.
I am sure if you read my recent 53 man roster prediction you would have known that I am a fan of Byrd. I think after his game in Tennessee he has all but sewn up a spot on the roster.
Today I wanted to show the reasons why I think that way and why he deserves that 5th spot on the roster.
During this year’s OTA’s & Mini Camp fans heard rumblings that Byrd put on weight but managed to keep his speed. Then once OTA’s & Mini Camp came and went the rumblings turned into hype from Ricky Proehl about how much different Byrd was from 2015 to now.
Once we got to Training Camp Byrd continued to make plays and build the hype that he really might contend for a roster spot this season in a very competitive group of receivers but what would he do in a game situation and how would they use him?
Then first pre-season game came and the first thing I noticed in the first quarter was they had Byrd out there in the first quarter returning kickoff’s & punts not Ginn. It surprised me because Ginn took the majority of punt returns in the pre-season last year early in games.
Let’s break down the film.
During the 1st quarter Byrd got his first opportunity to field a punt against the Ravens. Not only did he field the punt well but managed to move the ball about 9 yards up the field. Which was a good start to a great night in the return game for Byrd. Giving the offense the ball on 24 yard line.
Next we see Byrd on the kickoff with RB Brandon Wegher in the 2nd quarter against the Ravens. Byrd shows off that blazing speed and almost breaks one but is caught right before the 50 yard line.
He shows good field vision and patience on the return. He also shows the big play threat he can be with his speed. Something sorely lacking in the Panthers kickoff return game last year with Fozzy & Webb returning kicks.
Field position is so key in games as the Panthers learned the hard way after the Panthers no longer had Ginn or a returner to give us good field position in 2014. One of the many problems of 2014.
Byrd’s next punt return comes late in the 2nd quarter and it would not go as favorably. In this instance it may have been better to call for the fair catch.
Byrd still manages to field the punt well despite defenders being right on top of him but has little room to work once he does.
Late 2nd quarter we see Byrd and Wegher returning the kickoff again. With a similar result to his last kickoff return. Byrd shows good field vision again and finds a hole in the return coverage and is one shoe lace tackle away from busting a big one.
This is the kind of big play threat the Panthers need to consistently keep good field position on kickoffs. Something Fozzy & Webb did not do consistently. Byrd’s return abilities alone could warrant a spot on the roster.
In the 2nd we see Anderson throw to Byrd on the sidelines. Byrd creates plenty of separation between him and the corner to make this play but Anderson leads Byrd a little too far to make the catch.
Byrd does make a diving attempt at the catch and almost brings it in. What is worth noticing in this play isn’t so much the dropped pass but the separation Byrd has on the corner as he comes into frame. A better thrown ball would have been an easy reception.
In the 3rd quarter we see some of Byrd’s strength come into play. As he uses his body and arm to create some separation between him and the corner to make a great one handed grab in between two defenders.
Something that in 2015 Byrd had problems with due to his size. This is a good example of how Byrd can now be physical with the corners in the league to create separation and then his concentration and hands to make the great catch.
Something Ricky Proehl said recently really caught my attention about Byrd. He said Byrd had “soft hands” and that when he caught the ball you rarely heard it hit his gloves. This is a good example of that as well.
The next throw to Byrd the corner has good position and Webb throws the ball high out of bounds to Byrd. Out of the reach of Byrd and the corner.
Pretty safe play by Webb given the position of the corner that you can see as Byrd comes into frame.
The last ball thrown to Byrd in the Ravens game we see a lot of the same in regards to separation with him and the corner. The corner has good tight coverage leaving little to no window for Webb to throw to.
The Baltimore game ends on a sour note for Byrd when he muffs his last punt return late in the 4th quarter. It appears he misjudged the distance of the punt by a step and then tried to reach out to catch the ball. Which then Baltimore recovers and seals the game.
In the Baltimore game we seen a lot of Byrd’s big play threat in the return game and also his improvement as a receiver. Something the Panthers really need in their kick returns. We seen his ability to create good separation, and great field vision.
Let’s move on to Tennessee the following week. Where Byrd showed off more of his abilities as receiver, a blocker, and as a returner.
To start off in the Tennessee game we see CAP and Fozzy returning kicks to begin the game. I figure we will see many different combination’s of returners throughout pre-season.
Fozzy returns the first kick out of the end zone and does not even manage to get it back to the 20 which is then took back even further by a penalty.
Byrd does not appear in the game until late first quarter to return the first punt of the game by the Titans. Byrd again shows the same flashes in the return game we seen in Baltimore.
He does a great job fielding the punt and then has good enough field vision to take the ball from the 16 to the 29 yard line giving the offense decent field position. What makes this more interesting is we have yet to see Ginn field a punt all pre-season.
The next time we see Byrd is the middle of the 2nd quarter. He comes in to field another punt. It’s not a spectacular return but he does manage to move the ball about 4 yards from the 26 to the 30 before getting out of bounds to avoid contact. Which is decent field position for the offense to start.
Immediately following the return Byrd sees his first target of the day. On the first offensive play Byrd shows off his speed and his over the top big play threat when he blows by a corner who is playing about 7 yards off the line of scrimmage.
Anderson short arms the throw and the pass falls incomplete but had Anderson led Byrd with the pass there is no doubt this would have been a 70 yard touchdown. Something that won’t show up in the stats at the end of the day.
This would not be the only instance during this great day of route running for Byrd that the Quarterback would throw bad passes that should have been easy completions.
Something that doesn’t get talked about enough right now and I know it’s not the flashiest play with Byrd and his added size is how physical a blocker he is when run blocking.
Something he couldn’t do last pre-season and struggled with due to his frame but as you can see in these clips that I zoomed in on.
Byrd is attacking the corner off the line and taking him a good few yards out of the frame of the play from the line of scrimmage. Something a year ago you wouldn’t see.
On the same drive Byrd runs a nice out route underneath the coverage to get open and make the easy grab. He runs this route from the slot. So in two games we have seen him moved all over the field. He has ran routes out of the X, Y, and Z positions.
Being versatile enough to not only return kicks but run routes from all 3 spots will go a long way to earning a roster spot.
Not too long after that play Byrd manages to slip behind the corner and find a soft spot in the coverage with plenty of separation. Again though Anderson throws a bad pass behind Byrd giving him no chance to catch the ball.
Had Anderson thrown a better pass towards the sideline this would have put the offense close to the end zone and it would have been another easy catch for Byrd.
The same drive Byrd would again beat the coverage and again Anderson would throw a bad pass behind Byrd in the end zone. Byrd attempts to stop in his tracks on wet turf due to the rain in Tennessee but cannot make the adjustment in time.
This for what could have been an easy touchdown had Anderson led Byrd to the middle of the end zone. Again Byrd shows good route running ability and the ability to create separation.
Had Byrd gotten better passes from the quarterback he would have easily had 100+ receiving yards for possibly two touchdowns on the day. A very underrated performance that will not show up on the stats due to these three bad passes.
The last play of the day Byrd would make would be on kick return. He would again show great field vision and speed. As he takes the ball from the 1 yard line and brings it to the 30 yard line before going out of bounds.
This would have given the offense great starting field position had it not been called back for a penalty. Byrd would not play any of the 4th quarter or late 3rd quarter in this game.
To sum up the review of Byrd’s progress and battle to make the 53 man roster. I think he has shown the ability to be an over the top speed deep threat like Philly and Ginn.
You can never have enough speed. As Gettleman would say “You can’t coach speed”. He has shown with the added weight and muscle he can be physical in run blocking and able to use his body to compete with corners in this league.
He has crisp route running and is able to find soft spots in the zone and adjust his speed accordingly to his routes, and the soft hands to make the catches needed to make a 53 man roster. On top of all that is the added bonus of his special team abilities.
He offers speed and great field vision in the kick return game. Something the Panthers have not had in their kick return game in a while. Much better than Fozzy and Webb. He has also shown the ability to fill in at punt return.
Which if something happened to Ginn I would feel much more comfortable now if Byrd was his back up. It was reported just this week that Ginn, Byrd, and Bersin were all back there fielding punts in practice.
I assume Bersin is the emergency option should both Ginn and Byrd be unavailable. Outside of one muffed punt Byrd has made one of the strongest cases in my opinion to be on this roster if you look past the stat sheet and use the eyeball test.
For a 5th or 6th receiver on a roster you need to bring something a little extra. With his return abilities he does just that. I think after two games I believe Byrd has all but sewn up his spot on the 53. Unless he has a monumental collapse in these last two pre-season games.
Don’t be shocked that at the start of the season they decide to go with Byrd in the return game and at punt return to keep Ginn fresh and on the field more either. This could be a way of doing that with the older vet and the fact that he hasn’t taken any pre-season snaps at punt return makes me even more curious if that will be the case.
Reports the last few weeks have had Byrd getting snaps with the first unit and Cam in practice. I hope tomorrow against New England when the first unit offense is out there for 3 quarters we will see some of Byrd with that unit.
As for the last receiver spot I have two of essentially the same type of receivers battling it out for it. Bersin vs Norwood both possession type receivers. That will be a fun battle to watch which I plan on breaking down next week after the Patriots game before final cuts.
For now these are my thoughts on why I think Byrd will be on the 53 man roster in that 5th receiver spot and my breakdown of his first two pre-season games.
Do you think I am right or wrong? Did I miss something that you caught? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and as always KEEP POUNDING!