Damiere Byrd isn’t a big guy – 5-foot-9, 180 pounds or so – and quiet. He doesn’t stand out physically or verbally in a locker room filled with bigger frames and bigger personalities.
He spent four seasons with the Carolina Panthers, two mostly on the practice squad, another 1½ of those injured. The Panthers let him walk, and his signing with the Cards as a free agent in March was a blip, one of those that can feel like an effort to fill out the roster. Once the Cardinals drafted three wide receivers, it felt like it made Byrd’s chance to stick more of a long shot.
That Byrd had impressed coach Kliff Kingsbury and receivers coaches David Raih and Jerry Sullivan perhaps was under the radar. But Byrd caught their collective eye early. He’s gone from merely a kick return guy and fringe roster player in Carolina to one of the Cards’ top four receivers, logging 130 out of a possible 145 offensive snaps through two weeks and, with 10 catches, tied with Christian Kirk for second on the team. Byrd had just 12 career catches coming into the season.
“I was there (in Carolina) for four years, obviously things didn’t work out the way I would’ve wanted them to,” Byrd said Friday. “So yeah, this is a big game.”
“My role was a lot different there so to a certain extent …” Byrd added with a pause, “you know, that tells you what people thought around there.”
Raih said Byrd’s work with his technique has been excellent, and he’s improved greatly not only with his footwork but “hand-to-hand combat” getting off press coverage. He’s played well enough that it’s Byrd who is the Cards’ speed target, leaving rookie Andy Isabella inactive last week and probably for the time being.
“His confidence is on a new level,” Raih said. “He has the tools and he’s earned it. A P-squad guy for three years. He’s earned everything. We’re proud of him.”
Byrd can’t argue about the confidence factor, noting that it often is dictated by the situation. His situation for the Cardinals going against his former team is a good one.
“My confidence compared to last season is completely different, preparing for game every day each week knowing I’m going to be in there, knowing I am part of a game plan,” he said.
-- The Cardinals could use a win. So could the Panthers, at 0-2, but going cross-country with a backup quarterback isn’t an ideal situation. The Cards need to capitalize.
-- Kingsbury said the Cardinals were “still working through” who would start at right tackle against the Panthers, but it seems likely the Cards know and Kingsbury, understandably, would rather not say. He praised the work both Justin Murray and Jordan Mills did in practice and said he “wouldn’t be surprised if both of them played at some point.” Something to watch Sunday.
-- I don’t anticipate Larry Fitzgerald getting the 10 catches needed Sunday to surpass Tony Gonzalez as the No. 2 pass catcher in NFL history, but I do think he’ll set himself up to do it the following week, at home against Seattle, in the game Carson Palmer goes into the Ring of Honor.
-- Then again, betting against any Fitz performance right now might be a mistake.
-- There were a few quotes I really liked from Raih in my recent Fitz piece (please read it if you have not), but his comment after telling the story that Fitz was asking the coaches to “Feed me”: “Hey, we’re trying, bud. We’re on board for that.”
-- Interesting perspective from defensive coordinator Vance Joseph about playing the run. It’s mostly mindset, he said. And in today’s NFL, the running game has a different role for offenses than it once did (the Cardinals’ offense is a prime example.)
“The points are scored through the pass game,” Joseph said. “That’s obvious. But the running game allows you to dictate on defense. If you don’t stop the run, you can’t call the game. I’m off-balance calling the game if we can’t stop the run.”
-- It was likely a one-week, we’ve-got-to-find-a-way-to-stop-Lamar-Jackson deal, but seeing the two-defensive lineman, five-defensive backs look the Cardinals employed last week – allowing rookie safety Deionte Thompson to get his first defensive work – was Joseph’s first exotic changeup. It also makes you think Deionte is the Thompson twin (aside from fellow rookie Jalen Thompson) most likely to be called if safety help is needed. Thompson admitted it was a surreal moment to be playing defense in an NFL game (he did play special teams in the opener.)
“I was hard on myself for a couple of minutes but then I have to put it out of my mind and move forward,” Thompson said. “At defensive back you have to have a short memory, and I am still training myself to do that. I like making big plays, and when I don’t, I’m always trying to find reasons why.”
-- Kyle Allen is a good story, and it’s cool to see a local kid get a start in his hometown. You know Christian Kirk likes this setup, being Allen’s close friend growing up. But I’m thinking Kyler Murray likes this too, after Allen beat him out in 2015 initially for the Texas A&M job. Murray is just a rookie, but he’s in a better place as an NFL QB than Allen, in my opinion. I’m guessing Murray is counting on showing it in this game.
See you Sunday.