Speedy WR Damiere Byrd hopes to earn spot with Cardinals
TEMPE, Ariz. — Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk are the givens.
After that, there will be a deep competition between the Arizona Cardinals’ receivers to first make the regular season roster and then earn regular snaps.
The evaluation process had not yet begun with no padded practices as the third and final week of voluntary organized team activities began Monday. The Cardinals are using OTAs to install first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, and until the rookies get caught up, it’s on a few veterans to stand out.
Kevin White is the most heralded of those players as a top-10 pick in 2015 who hopes a change of scenery can help him turn his injured-plagued career around. But Damiere Byrd is the other free agent addition hoping his pro career can take off in a new home during his fourth NFL season.
“I had no idea where I was going to go. I didn’t get a call until later on in free agency,” Byrd said of joining the Cardinals. “I was able to make a trip out here, loved what I saw, thought that the offense was a great fit and we made it happen.”
Byrd, who also ran track in college, never amassed more than 575 receiving yards during a college season, but he finished a four-year career at South Carolina with 1,265 receiving yards on 18.6 yards per catch. Ten of his 68 catches went for touchdowns.
At 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, it’s Byrd’s 4.28-second speed in the 40-yard dash that makes him a unique weapon at receiver.
Byrd has played in 17 games, all with the Carolina Panthers, since going undrafted in 2015. He’s made 12 catches for 129 yards and two scores and also has experience as a return man.
In 2017, 105 of his receiving yards came in eight games between injuries. He also added a 103-yard kickoff return that set the Panthers’ record for longest in team history.
Byrd was Carolina’s punt returner last year, but he broke his arm in late November, ending his season.
With Arizona, Byrd could be in the mix to win a spot on the 53-man roster if he can use the wide open space created by Kingsbury’s offense to show off that speed.
The route concepts with the Cardinals aren’t so different than what he was asked to do for Carolina, Byrd said, but the tempo of Arizona’s practices has been more upbeat.
So far, he at least has one thing on most of the other players fighting for receiver reps.
“He’s a pro … so he knows how this deal works,” Kingsbury said. “Really fast, tries to do it right every time, great attitude. Always available. So he’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Third-year pro Chad Williams, Arizona’s 2016 third-round pick, and undrafted second-year pro Trent Sherfield hope a season of learning on the fly in 2018 can help them impress a new coaching staff in camp.
Rookies Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler seem all but certain to join Fitzgerald and Kirk in the Cardinals wide receivers room as second- and fourth-round draft picks, respectively.
Sixth-round pick KeeSean Johnson, White and return specialist Pharoh Cooper, like Byrd, probably can feel the weight of the roster crunch.
But so far, Byrd seems to like his chances.
“Just trying to get as many reps as you can, trying to make as many plays as you can, as many opportunities just to take advantage of,” Byrd said. “Whatever happens, happens.”