USF's Byrd looking to make outsized impact in East-West Shrine Game

USF’s Jamie Byrd, returning an interception this past season vs. Syracuse, is trying to prove himself to NFL scouts at 5-10, 186.
USF’s Jamie Byrd, returning an interception this past season vs. Syracuse, is trying to prove himself to NFL scouts at 5-10, 186.
Published Jan. 19, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Amid the horde of agents and NFL scouts that converged Monday at Shorecrest Prep's football stadium, a sequence of bizarre images emerged.

There was record-setting Navy triple-option quarterback Keenan Reynolds lined up as a tailback, vagabond coach Charlie Weis — most recently deposed at Kansas — again wearing a whistle, and a wandering spectator in a red cap seeking anonymity behind sunglasses. Some dude named Bon Jovi.

But others at this inaugural East-West Shrine Game practice seemed right in place, such as former USF wallop-packer Jamie Byrd. After a successful senior year as the Bulls' husky (aka nickel back), Byrd lined up for the East squad at his more natural free safety spot.

"I love it, man," he said.

Question is, will free safety love him back, at least at football's highest level?

Perhaps this week's festivities, culminating with Saturday's Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, will go a good way toward answering that. In two seasons at USF, the Pasco High alumnus compiled a quality highlight tape, posted some fairly glimmering numbers (183 tackles, five interceptions, five sacks), and perhaps dislodged a bicuspid or two.

"You talk about somebody that loves contact, the kid just loves contact," Bulls coach Willie Taggart said in early November. "He loves pain."

But Byrd's is a pop-up resume of sorts, and two figures protrude off the page: Five feet 10 (and change), 186 pounds.

"I think I put a lot of good stuff on film, but me being undersized, that's going to cause me to put extra stuff out here also," Byrd said after Monday's practice. "I've got to go the extra mile to get them to love me, not just like me."

Vital statistics and college film notwithstanding, Byrd's slate remains as blank as those atop Mel Kiper's mock drafts. No NFL team has compiled a serious draft board, no significant combines have been staged, and no major college all-star games played.

But few companies attempt to fit prospective employees into a figurative, physical box like the NFL. Which is to say, size often matters.

No safety on the Bucs roster weighs less than 197 pounds. AFC Pro Bowl picks Charles Woodson and Eric Berry both weigh roughly 210.

"He has a tremendous ability to finish, he's so explosive. He has a burst to the ball that you just can't coach," former Bulls defensive coordinator Tom Allen said toward the end of the 2015 season. "But the challenge with him is his size, so you've got to be able to set him up. He can't just fight through two or three blocks to get there. He needs to be able to schematically be put in position so he can use that athleticism and that strike that he has."

To that end, Byrd is trying to add 10 pounds to his frame. Since his college career ended at the Dec. 21 Miami Beach Bowl, he has worked with Weston-based professional trainer Matt Gates, whose clientele includes NFL players Brandon Marshall and Teddy Bridgewater.

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A successful regimen would get him to around 195 — 200 if you count the figurative source of motivation he perpetually carries.

"I play with a chip on my shoulder every time I play because I'm not the biggest guy out here," he said, "so I've got to play with that chip anywhere I go. That chip won't go nowhere."

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.