By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
It's not often you can watch a Bills game and think about the Sabres, but that is exactly what happened to me during the Bills-Carolina game. There is almost nothing similar about football and hockey for obvious reasons, but the reason I thought about both teams is because they have something in common.
Both have rookie players who were all but unknown to their fans prior to the season, and yet these players have shown in a very short period of time they are impact players who make everybody around them better. This weekend, Jairus Byrd's pair of interceptions led to both Bills touchdowns in their upset 20-9 win at Carolina, and Tyler Myers ended a Sabres comeback win at Tampa Bay with a beautiful stick handling move that beat Lightning goalie Mike Smith in the 6th round of a shootout. Five other Sabres had failed to score until the 6-8 Myers put the game on his shoulders.
It's hard to say which is the better story here, but I'd go with Byrd, because he was a second round draft pick, while Myers was expected to eventually be an impact player after being drafted #12 overall in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Byrd is a compact 5-10, 209 pounder out of Oregon who didn't wow scouts with his 40 times; a 4.6 40 means you don't go in the first round, but Byrd had another quality the Bills liked, and after a number of questionable draft picks in recent years, their hunch appears now to have been right on the money. The Bills scouts loved the way Byrd played the football in the air, which is a skill a surprisingly large number of NFL defensive backs don't have. He had 17 interceptions in his career at Oregon, where he was mostly a cornerback, but the Bills envisioned him as a free safety in Buffalo. Good call. Byrd also had the good blood lines, with father Gill a former db for the San Diego Chargers.
With his two interceptions at Carolina, Byrd now has FIVE picks in his last three games, which he has been starting due to injuries. Byrd's two int's against both the Jets and Panthers, on the road no less, led directly to Bills victories in games where the offense struggled much of the time. Count on the fact opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks are going to start looking to see just where #31 is from now on, as word spreads quickly around the league about Byrd-the-ball-hawker.
That's not all there is to know about Byrd, who is also a solid tackler and accomplished punt returner if need be. Byrd was also one of the strongest players on the Oregon football team, and that includes the big ol' linemen.
The 19-year old Myers wasn't even a lock to make the Sabres roster during the pre season, even though coach Lindy Ruff would later admit Myers was the one player he was most asked about by other coaches and gm's. Not only is Myers a skyscraper at 6-8, but he is also an excellent skater with good hands and the knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Myers was the MVP of the Western Hockey League playoffs and a key part of Canada's gold-medal winning team in the World Junior Hockey Championships. Now, he's taking all that to the next level at a surpringly quick pace.
In eight games, Myers has two goals and three assists for five points, which ties him for fourth on the team, but he is also a plus 8, which is the second-best plus/minus figure on the team. Yes, he has made a mistake or two, but he has more than made up for it with his calm and confident play that belies his years.
While Sabres gm Darcy Regier says he hasn't made up his mind yet about whether or not Myers stays or goes back to his junior club in the WHL after two more games, I'd think Myers would have to start tripping over the blue line on consecutive shifts for that to happen.
The emergence of Byrd certainly doesn't hide a number of problems the Bills continue to have, despite winning two in a row as road underdogs. But ALL good teams have play-making safeties, something the Bills have been lacking for quite sometime now.
Ditto for Myers, although the Sabres are off to a fast start that puts them safety out of the Bills' category of frustrating.
Nobody is saying Byrd or Myers or both are sure super stars of the future. But then again, who's to say either or both won't be?