Being a former NFL football star doesn’t necessarily make you a good NFL football coach. But in the case of Bucs secondary coach Gil Byrd, most would agree he is both, and now the defensive backs in Tampa Bay are drawing on the knowledge and experience that a four-time All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler can provide.
While his experience is invaluable, Byrd knows times have changed since he was drafted in the first-round back in 1983 by the San Diego Chargers.
“It is totally different game than when I played,” Byrd said. “But football is football in the sense that there are fundamentals in football, no matter what era you played in, there are fundamentals to football. But as far as the athletes, the type of athletes, the speed, the size things like that – it has changed over the years.
“But that is ok because it is both sides of the ball. It stays the same, status quo. But if there is a situation where my experience may come into play, I try to let the players know. In certain situations they may ask, as a player ‘ What did you think on this’ or, ‘How would you handle that?’ And I will give them that information.
“But by and large it is all about our defense, it is all out reading our keys, because my keys may not have been the same (as now) when was playing. The defense (ans scheme) I was running may not have been the same. So it really doesn’t matter about me. It is all about our players, all about our defense, all about our system.”
Watching Byrd in action is it easy to tell he is a stickler for details. Byrd is usually seen coaching up players after nearly every rep, whether good or bad.
“When you are not disciplined with your eye placement, with your alignment, with your technique, you may be off a yard or two, or six inches,” Byrd said. “And that is the difference in, does he catch the ball and I tackle him, do I have pass break up or do I have an interception. It is just in six or eight inches either way. And it could be something as simple as in man coverage, let me get my eyes off the quarterback and focus on my man and drive to my man. That is six inches I can make up just in doing that alone. So we want to harp on the little things. Because the little things, the details, they make the biggest difference.”
Besides the attention to detail – Byrd and the entire defensive coaching staff – have been working hard to help change the mentality of the team by requiring them to scoop and return every loose ball on the field, from fumbles to even dropped passes.
“That is the whole concept, you do it long enough and it becomes a habit, and you want to develop good habits,” Byrd said. “We have habits, some good, some bad, but we want to develop good habits and that is why we do that. By consistently reminding the players the ball is what this game is all about and creating those takeaways.”
Byrd, who nabbed 42 interceptions over his 10-year NFL career said the staff is also stressing turnovers, something Lovie Smith’s defense was successful in creating during his time coaching the Bears.
“You can coach a mindset, and the mindset creates the takeaways,” Byrd said. “Because there are certain opportunities every game that the ball is out, the ball is loose. Some guys don’t punch at it. Why? Because they don’t have the mindset. So if you create the mindset, you can get turnovers.”
Much has been made of the size of NFL cornerbacks, but Byrd, who was only listed at 5-11 during his playing days, says he isn’t concerned about the measurables of a player, just can he produce.
Whether it is a big corner, a short corner, you are only as valuable as the plays you make,” Byrd said. “The size isn’t the issue. It is going out and not just being active, but being productive. A lot of guys are active. Everybody after the game is going to take a shower, they have worked up a sweat. But there will be a number of players, not as many, that you will know were productive in that game. That is what we want. Players to be productive – not just active.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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