Byrd, Saints secondary starting to soar

MANDEVILLE, La. -- Injuries have delayed the true unveiling this summer. But the highly-touted New Orleans Saints secondary is finally starting to take shape.

Safety Jairus Byrd was the star of Wednesday night’s practice in just his second day of full-contact participation following summer back surgery. He had two interceptions (one in full-team drills, one in 7-on-7). And he also batted away a pass from Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham in the end zone.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis was back to full participation after being limited by an injury earlier in the week. Cornerback Champ Bailey was back to full participation for the first time since July 31. And cornerback Patrick Robinson was back on a limited basis for the first time in more than a week.

Safety Rafael Bush and cornerback Derrius Brooks also added interceptions during full-team drills Wednesday.

It was uncanny the way Byrd lived up to his reputation as a ball-hawking turnover producer on Wednesday night. The Saints signed Byrd to a six-year, $54 million contract this offseason specifically to aid in their effort to force more turnovers. The three-time Pro Bowler had 22 interceptions during his five-year career with the Buffalo Bills, which ranks second in the NFL during that span.

“He’s someone that covers a lot of ground quickly. He’s really smart with his eyes. He’s a veteran player that understands formations and where the ball might be going,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Typically with a safety like that, it starts with the first step and anticipation. You can have great speed and ball skills, but if your anticipation is a step slow, you find yourself a step away from a play.

“Tonight there were a couple of plays where the quarterbacks just commented, ‘Where’d he come from?’”

Byrd will make his preseason debut Saturday night at the Indianapolis Colts. Bailey might also make his preseason debut at Indianapolis.

“We’ll see,” Payton said. “I think he’s making progress. One of the things we’ve talked about was tomorrow will be an important day to see how some of these guys did following tonight’s practice.”

Robinson seems more questionable for Saturday night. But obviously there’s plenty of reason for optimism that the Saints’ secondary will be at full strength by Week 1 of the regular season -- just in time for a date with Julio Jones, Roddy White and the rival Atlanta Falcons.