Bills S Byrd following in father's footsteps

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Bills S Byrd following in father's footsteps

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Growing up, Jairus Byrd remembers the days when the new shipment of San Diego Chargers helmets would arrive.

Quick as he could, Byrd would pull one over his tiny head and wobble his top-heavy frame out the door to scamper around pretending to be his father.

``I would just run around with the helmet on for no reason, just throwing up the ball,'' the Buffalo Bills safety said. ``I just had a love for the game, because sons want to be like their dads.''

If many kids aspire to one day play quarterback, the dream was far different for Jairus. He wanted to grow up being a defensive back like his father, Gill Byrd, who established himself as one of the Chargers' premier cornerbacks over a 10-year, two-time Pro Bowl career that ended in 1992.

``When I put that helmet on, I wanted to be just like him,'' Byrd said. ``A DB.''

The family legacy for producing top-tier NFL defensive backs has entered its second generation with Byrd's continuing emergence.

He first burst onto the scene in 2009, when the second-round draft pick out of Oregon set a Bills rookie record with nine interceptions. He's since rounded himself into a more complete player.

This season, Byrd leads Buffalo with four interceptions and three forced fumbles, and is tied for second with 57 tackles. He's particularly developed a knack for making game-changing plays on a 4-6 team that still believes it can make a second-half playoff push. One that resumes at Indianapolis (6-4) Sunday.

In Buffalo's 19-16 win at Arizona last month, Byrd set up the decisive field goal by intercepting John Skelton's pass over the middle on the Cardinals' opening drive of overtime.

On Thursday, Byrd helped seal a 19-14 win over Miami. With under 2 minutes left, he burst to his right as quarterback Ryan Tannehill released a deep pass intended for Davone Bess, who had a step on cornerback Justin Rogers.

Covering some 30 yards, Byrd beat everyone to the ball by leaping head-first. He intercepted the pass and managed to land inbounds before sliding into the Dolphins bench.

``Any receiver that's ever played the game would've been proud of that catch,'' Bills coach Chan Gailey said. ``That whole play was really amazing. ... And the timing of it.''

It was a play NFL Network announcers described as ``an Ed Reed type of play,'' in reference to the Ravens star safety.

Former NFL defensive back Aeneas Williams had a different comparison. It reminded him of Gill Byrd.

``When I see him do what he does, it's once again a reminder of some of the things his dad did when he played, and some of the things his dad taught me,'' Williams said. ``And Jairus being the next generation, let's just say he has even more abilities maybe than his dad and I combined. How about that?''

Williams, who split his career between Arizona and St. Louis, is very familiar with the Byrd family. As a player, he spent offseasons being tutored by the elder Byrd. That's how he first met Jairus, who has come to call him ``Uncle Aeneas.''

Williams, who eventually took Jairus under his wing, had his first inkling of Byrd's potential while watching a high school tape.

``I think he was a sophomore,'' he said. ``And just some of the things he was doing were electrifying.''

As for now, Williams said: ``I don't know if he's scratched the surface yet.''

What the 5-foot-10 and 203-pound Byrd lacks in size and breakout speed, he makes up for with instinct. He identifies the play and has an efficiency of movement.

``I've told him, `You've got the best feet. You come out of breaks and it's no wasted steps,''' Bills veteran linebacker Bryan Scott said. ``It's bam! Gone. I'm telling you he is, to me, the best safety in the league.''

Byrd credits his father and Williams for helping him get this far - both physically and mentally.

It's one thing to have the advantage of growing up in the shadow of NFL players and coaches. Byrd also understood it was his responsibility to do something with that edge, knowing there were those wondering whether he was getting preferential treatment because of his name.

``There was always that motivation that in some ways you've got to be better than the rest because of where you come from,'' Byrd said. ``And also, I'm a competitor. So anything your dad does, you always want to try to compete with him.''

Byrd's already ahead of the pace his father established in setting the San Diego career record with 42 interceptions. Jairus currently has 17, six more than his father had after four seasons.

Gill Byrd, a Chicago Bears defensive assistant, wouldn't be upset if his son passes him.

``I know that drives him to be the one in the family to have the most interceptions in the NFL,'' he said. ``And I love it. He has a singular focus to be the best.''

That includes Byrd's approach off the field. Jairus and Gill have established a program called the Legacy Experience, to help fathers and sons build closer relationships.

``To me, that is the one thing that as a dad I'm most proud of,'' Byrd said. ``I think he understands that where much is given, much is required. And he wants to give back to people.''

Dad had plenty more to crow about after Thursday. He was alone at the Bears headquarters watching the Bills game, when he saw his son's interception.

``I was jumping around like a little school kid in the office here,'' Byrd said. ``I was just, `Wow!'''

The Byrds have a reputation for not getting overemotional, so Jairus was a little surprised to hear about his father's reaction.

``That doesn't sound like him, jumping around,'' Byrd said, breaking into a smile, realizing he did his father proud. ``But that's cool.

``That's a dad for you.''

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AFC North: Will Steelers RB Bell stay healthy this season?

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AFC North: Will Steelers RB Bell stay healthy this season?

Here’s a key AFC North question. Will Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell stay healthy?

Bell is without question one of the league’s most talented backs. However, knee injuries have ended his season the past two years, leaving the Steelers without him when they were eliminated from the playoffs.

De’Angelo Williams did a superb job in place of Bell last season, rushing for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns. But Bell is a better pass receiver and more elusive – capable of turning almost any play in to a big play. In 2014, Bell had over 2,000 yards combined from scrimmage – 1,316 yards rushing and 854 yards receiving.

Bell doesn’t want to be labeled as injury-prone, yet some people already view him that way. But at Steelers OTA’s, Bell showed up looking healthy, while vowing not to run cautiously next season.

“I’m going to be physical,” Bell told ESPN.com. “I’m out here with no knee brace or anything, didn’t wear a sleeve or anything. I’ve been training my knee for everything I’m about to go through, so when September gets here I’ll be even better than I am now. That’s even crazy to think about. But I’m excited.”

When Bell has been healthy, putting up numbers has not been a problem. The more Bell plays next season, the better the Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs.

Urschel spends his spring getting straight A's at MIT

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Urschel spends his spring getting straight A's at MIT

If the NFL had an All-Academic team, Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel would be on it.

In February, Urschel began the Ph.D program in mathematics at MIT. How’s he doing so far? Here’s a hint. When it comes to grades, Urschel is only familiar with one letter in the alphabet.

“My first semester in school in nearly three years,” Urschel wroter on Twitter. “Four PhD classes at MIT. Four A’s. The streak continues!!!”

Entering his third season with the Ravens, Urschel has found a way to juggle his love for football with his love for mathematics. He posted an interesting article on The Players Tribune this week in which he described training with the football team at MIT this spring.

“I probably had about 50 or 60 pounds on the biggest guy on MIT’s O-line,” Urschel wrote. “But when we ran, they put me to shame. They could outsprint me.

“What I found is that the team at MIT is no joke. It is a football team – in some ways, more of a football team than any I’d ever seen. These guys love football. They are playing the game because they want to. No one is making them come to practice, no one is checking up on them. They know as well as anyone about head injuries; they know that football is dangerous; they know the feeling of exhaustion and pain. They still play. They don’t do it for money, and they don’t do it for status.

“We talk about dedication and passion in the pros, but the truth is, sometimes the game feels like a job. You start to think of the paycheck. You feel the grind. But training with the team at MIT, I started thinking about what had drawn me to football as a kid. It felt like a game again. I had thought I might have something to teach the team. I never imagined they’d have so much to teach me.”

That guy in the Dos Equis beer commercials might be the most interesting man in the world. But Urschel has built a strong resume as the most interesting player on the Ravens.

RELATED: NFL ANNOUNCES LOCATIONS FOR 2019, 2020 AND 2021 SUPER BOWLS

NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

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NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

The NFL has decided on the locations of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls. The vote took place at the NFL owners meetings in Charlotte on Tuesday. 

Atlanta will host Super Bowl LIII in 2019, while South Florida (Miami) will get the event in 2020 and Los Angeles will host in 2021. 

The cities chosen each included new or upgraded stadiums in their pitches to the league. 

Atlanta will be home to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, opening in 2017. 

Miami's stadium (Sun Life Stadium from 2010-2016) is undergoing a $400 million renovation that will include an open-air canopy to provide shade for 92 percent of seats, according to Sports Illustrated. Construction should be complete before the 2017 season. 

And Los Angeles will boast a new 300-acre, campus-style stadium housing the Rams and potentially a second team. The $2.6 billion project will be the most expensive sports arena in the world, reports CNN, and should be ready before the 2019 NFL season.