Byrd Watching is back once again, and will cover everything you may have missed regarding backyard baller Damiere Byrd at this past minicamp. Minicamp is the preamble to training camp, and like OTA practices, no pads are worn and player on player contact is kept to a minimum. Due to injuries and experimentation, Byrd got several chances to earn more snaps at several different positions and looked good while playing them.
With Fozzy Whittaker out with a groin injury, Damiere Byrd slipped into the top three at kickoff return along with Jordan Todman and Ted Ginn. This is very exciting because Byrd’s speed allows him to go from Point A to Point B faster than anyone on the roster. His small frame will also allow him to squeeze through holes and maximize his gains on returns. There is a real battle brewing on kick return this year, the incumbent Fozzy Whittaker will battle to keep his spot against newcomers Ted Ginn and Jordan Todman. Whittaker averaged a respectable 23.8 yards per kick return last season albeit, on a sample sample size of 11 returns. Todman was one of the best kick returners in league last year, he tied for sixth in the NFL with a 25.6 yards per return average on a hefty 38 attempts. Ted Ginn will try to resurrect his receiving as well as his return game after posting a very disappointing 19 yards per kick return last season. All of this uncertainty leaves the door wide open for someone like Damiere Byrd, who could possibly steal Jordan Todman’s spot on the final roster. Though Byrd rarely returned kicks in college (3 returns his whole career), Rivera says he will give him a chance to show what he can do at both kick and punt return this preseason.
Hopefully Byrd can use his elite speed to make plays returning and receiving in the preseason games this year. I am worried about his ability to abstain from injury while returning though. At a mere 165 pounds, I wonder if taking his first big NFL hit will make him timid in future returns. This is why I doubt he returns regular season punts in the near future. Punt returning is much more cerebral than returning a kickoff, you have to know when to fair catch and when to juke and cut right after you secure the punt. You are also more prone to getting knocked to the turf on a punt, and Byrd may not be able to take these kind of hits until he puts on some more weight. This in part is why I sadly see Ginn making the roster, there are just no other effective/proven punt returners on the team.
Returning aside, Byrd continued to catch the ball cleanly and even “flashed” his speed on an end around according to Ron Rivera. This news only continues to add to his possibility of making the roster, and further intensifies the wide receiver battle, which promises to be one for the ages. Our next chance to see Byrd in action will be at the start of training camp on July 31, over a month away. These practices will be open to the public, and much more news on Byrd will be available then. A few weeks after that, on August 14, the Panthers head to Buffalo for their first taste of real competition in a preseason game against the Bills. This is when Rivera’s promise of putting Byrd on the return team should come true, and will be the ultimate glance to whether Damiere can claim a roster spot. Until then, check back into Cat Chronicles for the biggest story lines, and the best Panther fan opinion.
By Grant Hughes
Follow Grant on Twitter @KenjonVander