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Safety Jairus Byrd joins Panthers family


CHARLOTTE – The connection between football and family runs deep for Jairus Byrd.

Now, he can connect with family while running around the Panthers' football facilities.

The three-time Pro Bowl safety who signed with the Panthers on Tuesday is the nephew of assistant defensive backs coach Richard Rodgers.

"His mother is my sister," Rodgers said. "It's awesome. I think he's a great person along with being a good player. It's a great opportunity to be able to coach him and just a blessing. I think he'll be a great addition."

A family reunion was a possibility for Byrd in numerous NFL cities. Richard Rodgers' son plays tight end in Green Bay, and Jairus Byrd's father – Gill – is defensive backs coach in Buffalo.

"I've known Jairus for probably 12 years because his father and I coached together in Chicago. He's an outstanding young man," Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. "Jairus is a smart guy. He picks things up very quickly."

For Byrd, playing for the Panthers is an opportunity to play for both his uncle and for a tight-knit football family.

"It's cool having a family member here, but because he knows me best, I know he's going to be hard on me," Byrd said. "He's going to coach me hard to make sure I'm doing what I need to be doing.

"The coaches have said there's a Panther way, and that's something coming in here I'm buying into."

When starting safety and team captain Kurt Coleman suffered a knee injury that could keep out a few weeks, the Panthers knew where they wanted to turn – and not because of family ties. An elite-level safety when healthy, Byrd worked out for the Panthers at training camp.

"We wanted to sit down, visit with him, see where he was in terms of knowing our system and learning our system – how capable he would be," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It turns out he was exactly what we were looking for. That's why we went out and got him."

Health has been a concern for Byrd. A second-round draft choice by the Bills in 2009 out of Oregon – where he played with Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart and tight end Ed Dickson – Byrd was healthy his first four seasons. His fifth and final season with Buffalo in 2013 (and his third Pro Bowl campaign) got off to a slow start because of a foot injury, and ever since lower-body injuries have hampered him.

During his three seasons with the Saints that followed, Byrd played in just three out of a possible six games against the Panthers, though he did play in all 16 games last season after missing 15 games between 2014 and 2015.

"I feel good. I'm just making sure I take care of my body – that's the biggest thing, really," said Byrd, who was released by the Saints in March. "A lot of people have concerns about my injury history, but they're helping me take care of my body and I'm got to stay on top of it.

"This is an injury sport. I love football, and that's what comes with it."

Byrd loves football, and he loves getting his hands on the football. He tied for the most interceptions in the NFL as a rookie with nine and has 25 in his career. Now he could contribute right away to a stout defense that has gone three consecutive weeks without a takeaway for the first time in 11 years.

"Even today, you could tell he was picking things up," Wilks said. "You look at his production over the years – he has a real knack for the ball.

"I think he's going to do a lot for us, most importantly just from a standpoint of bringing some stability to the position, some veteran leadership and just a great skillset."

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