Saints' Jairus Byrd practices

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Safety Jairus Byrd finally made his practice debut with the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday after his summer was wiped out by back surgery.

Although Byrd will be eased back into the mix (he didn't participate in full-team drills yet Tuesday), the three-time Pro Bowler appears on schedule to be fully healthy in plenty of time for the regular season.

And now the Saints officially can begin their quest to field a secondary capable of rivaling any other in the NFL -- including the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

When asked where he thinks the Saints' group of safeties stands compared to Seattle, Byrd told ESPN's Britt McHenry, "I think we stand right at the top."

However, Byrd quickly added, "We have to go and do it. They've done it."

The Saints aggressively went out and landed Byrd on the first day of free agency, signing him to a six-year, $54 million contract to join rising young players like cornerback Keenan Lewis and safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush.

The Saints were particularly attracted to Byrd's uncanny knack for forcing turnovers -- an area that ranks as their No. 1 priority this offseason. Byrd's 22 interceptions over the past five seasons with the Buffalo Bills rank second among all NFL players. He has also forced 11 fumbles over that span.

Byrd said he embraces that reputation because it's part of being an "impact player ... and that's what I pride myself on being."

However, Byrd said he's not feeling any pressure to be a "savior" for the Saints or to live up to his lofty contract.

"I'm approaching this like every time I approach each year, just trying to get better and better each year," Byrd said. "Not looking at what you guys are saying about the money, the things like that. I'm approaching it as, 'How can I get better? How can I help this team?' Because it's not about me, it's about this team."

Byrd declined to go into any specific details about the nature of the surgery -- or how long the back issue had been nagging him -- saying only, "It's an issue that needed to be taken care of."

However, he did say he wasn't hesitant to have the surgery done because "it's a long season."

"And now I'm back. I thank God I'm back, and moving forward," Byrd said.

Coach Sean Payton previously described Byrd's procedure as being done to alleviate a nagging disk issue. At the time, Payton stressed that it wasn't a major injury and that a surgery wouldn't have been done if it were during the regular season. And Payton echoed those sentiments again Tuesday.

"I'm glad we did the procedure when we did rather than try to get through the season in a maintenance mode," Payton said. "I know he feels better, and yet we still have to be smart here. We've got a lot of time and a lot of things that we've got to do and a lot of things that he's got to be able to catch up on. But he's been attentive in all the meetings. It's good to have him out here."

Byrd, who began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, participated in every part of practice Tuesday except for full-team drills. He even fielded some punts during special-teams work.

That's something Byrd did in college, and it's something he could potentially do with the Saints, though he would more likely be used as an option on fair catches when the Saints want someone with reliable hands. After Tuesday's practice, Byrd was then the last player on the field, making up for some lost time while catching passes one-handed from the JUGS machine from his knees.

"Mentally, he's right there. But he needs to work on the field. He needs the reps with his teammates," Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "And that'll come. He's a real sharp guy."