Healthy year or bust for New Orleans Saints safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro


Between Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro, the New Orleans Saints had a promising shot at housing one of the top safety duos in the National Football League a season ago.  But like the legendary British rock band The Rolling Stones once said back in 1969, “you can’t always get what you want.”

The truth cannot be spoken any better.  In hopes of producing spectacular numbers on the defensive side of the ball, the Saints did quite the opposite.  While we cannot solely blame poor health for the countless mishaps in 2014, it was indeed a factor.

For starters, Jairus Byrd, a three-time All-Pro safety, suffered a gruesome knee injury at practice after playing in just four games last year.  He would miss the remainder of the season after head coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis threw bags of money at the free agent deal ball-hawking defensive back just months before.

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Byrd was officially cleared in March for the upcoming season, and he’ll be looking to return to elite form in hopes of solidifying that potentially dangerous tandem alongside Vaccaro, who evidently struggled with injuries as well a year ago.

Vaccaro, an outstanding rookie in 2013, entered a sophomore slump in 2014, eventually getting benched toward the end of the season.  However, he said he struggled with pain in his ankle — he fractured it just in time to miss the playoffs his first year in the Big Easy.  After the New Orleans Saints’ atrocious season came to a close in 2014, it was reported that Vaccaro had played a majority of the season with a partially torn hamstring. Wow. And ouch.

With the new season just around the corner, imagine a full year with both Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro at 100%.  But the New Orleans Saints are back to square one.  No progress has been made between the two safeties.  However, like before, the ceiling is very high.

Byrd has everything you want from a safety — speed, power, burst, ball skills, hands, outstanding coverage and run stop abilities, and a strong work ethic.  Injury aside, we didn’t see all of that from him in his first four games as a Saint.  He was still adjusting to new surroundings, particularly defensive coordinator Rob Ryan‘s scheme.

However, his numbers were improving game by game.  The unfortunate lateral meniscus tear never gave Saints fans a real chance to witness Byrd’s true talents firsthand.  Now, at full health and hopefully all of his setbacks in the past, he’s got the prime opportunity to display his elite style of football once again.

From his Pro Bowl rookie season in 2009, to his third All-Pro campaign in 2013, Jairus Byrd led all safeties in the NFL with 22 interceptions.  With some added weapons in the secondary and another full training camp to acclimate, things are looking good.

Turning the page to Kenny Vaccaro, I’m not going to sit here and bash on the kid.  Yes, he had a bad second season, but it’s all in the past.  And again, he was apparently playing through lingering injuries.

It’s a new year, and at full health with a potentially dangerous secondary to play alongside just like Byrd, Vaccaro will be looking to get back on track and erase that sophomore slump with a big outing in 2015.  It wasn’t too long ago when he was named to the all-rookie team.

The skill set of Vaccaro is undeniable — he’s fast, explosive, physical and possesses the uncanny ability to stretch the field from sideline to sideline.  Coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis didn’t draft him with the team’s first pick in 2013 for nothing.

Both Byrd and Vaccaro have much in common, with much adversity to overcome in 2015 as the New Orleans Saints look to get back on the road to the promised land.  And sometimes it’s not all that easy.  For now, their futures rely on what can be, not what will be.  There is work to be done and goals to be reached, but that goes for the entire club.  An injury-free season is key for their success, as well as the team’s success.

Of course, Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro, along with the rest of the organization, have their minds set on bigger things.  But for now, it’s good health or bust for the promising safety tandem as they hope to finally terrorize opposing offenses on the field together in 2015.  Is this the year the New Orleans Saints finally get what they want out of the two?

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