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Bills prepare Byrd for solo flight Safety expected to get first NFL start Sunday

The Buffalo Bills selected Jairus Byrd in the second round of April's draft with the intention of him eventually becoming a starter at safety.

Ready or not, eventually is likely to come Sunday in Miami.

Both starting safeties -- Donte Whitner at free and Bryan Scott at strong -- are nursing injuries. Whitner had surgery on a thumb injury Monday, while Scott had an MRI on his ankle. They haven't been officially ruled out, but it would be a surprise if either played.

"I was brought here to play so I'm excited about the opportunity, and I'm going to make the best of it," Byrd said.

It's not as if Byrd will be stepping onto an NFL field for the first time. He has seen extensive action in nickel and dime packages through the first three games, registering nine solo tackles. But it's quite another thing when an offense has a week to prepare, knowing where you'll be on the field.

"You just play and make sure you do your job," Byrd said. "We have veterans out there like Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee. Those guys, they help me out a lot, so just as long as I'm doing my job we'll be fine."

One thing the Bills hope to see from Byrd -- and it's a reason they drafted him -- is a big play. He had 17 interceptions, 53 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his three seasons at the University of Oregon.

That type of ball-hawking ability is an element the Bills' defense has sorely missed at safety, save Whitner's interception return for a touchdown in Week Two.

Byrd's development this season was initially behind schedule because he wasn't able to participate in any spring practices. The NFL has a rule prohibiting rookies from participating in minicamps if final exams don't start by a certain date. Oregon's late May start missed that cutoff.

When training camp rolled around, Byrd wasn't able to suit up at the start because of a sports hernia injury. That means the long-term goal, which is to start Byrd at free safety and shift Whitner back to strong safety, has yet to come to fruition, but it remains in the cards.

"I like Jairus," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "Jairus is a good football player, obviously, and he'll just get better. He missed a lot of time for us in the offseason and in the training camp. He's catching up and he's catching on."

If Scott also isn't able to play, George Wilson would likely start. That means the Bills could have three different starters in the secondary Sunday (Florence will start at cornerback for Leodis McKelvin, who suffered a broken leg last week) than they did a week ago.

"We just have to stick together and help each other out, have each other's back and fight from there," Byrd said. "We know it's going to be a good battle but I think we're ready for it."

e-mail: jskurski@buffnews.com

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