Jim Wyatt, Senior Writer/Editor, TitansOnline.com
Titans safety Kevin Byard led the NFL in takeaways in 2017, and he was named All-Pro, and a Pro Bowler. He’s ready to make a big impact again in 2018 – as a playmaker, and “a better leader.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The honeymoon is over following Kevin Byard’s breakout season in 2017.
After leading the NFL in takeaways last season, when he was named All-Pro and a Pro Bowler, the Titans safety has moved on.
He changes the subject when asked about personal goals, one offseason after he famously stated he wanted 10 or 12 turnovers in his second NFL season. Byard did that, of course.
“My personal goal right now is just focus on the team, focus on trying to be a better leader,” Byard said on Tuesday. “If there’s things that some of the younger DBs or young guys on the sideline need help with, I’m always trying to be on the sideline talking to those guys. But yeah, it’s all about leadership right now. Bringing everybody along because at the end of the day, it takes everybody to win a championship and that’s what we’re going to need.”
Byard led the NFL in takeaways with 10 in 2017, and he also tied for the league lead in interceptions with eight.
A third-round pick out of MTSU in the 2016 NFL Draft, Byard also tallied 87 tackles in 2017, and in addition to his eight interceptions he also had 18 passes defensed in 2017. He tied with Detroit’s Darius Slay for the NFL-lead in interceptions, but Byard’s two fumble recoveries and eight picks combined made him second to none in takeaways.
Byard had three interceptions in a game at Cleveland, and had a pair of two-interception games (vs. Baltimore and Jacksonville).
Along the way, he got even more comfortable in his role as a leader.
“As a rookie I was still feeling my way around,” he said. “I was learning from the vets that were here – I’m still learning from the vets here as well. I’m not an eight-year veteran, I’m only a third-year player. I have a lot to learn, I still have a lot of room to grow, so that’s what I’m doing every single day. I’m learning and growing, but at the same time, if I can reach down and help somebody else I’m definitely doing that every single day.”
Byard does have big goals for the team’s secondary, which added former Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. Butler joined cornerbacks Logan Ryan, Adoree Jackson, LeShaun Sims and Tye Smith, among others. Byard will once again play alongside veteran safety Johnathan Cyprien.
“We want to be if not the best, one of the best secondaries in the league this year,” he said. “But at the end of the day that’s all talk right now. At the end of the day, we’re going out here, we have the opportunity to actually be on the field right now and work with each other, and get the communication down, learn the defense, and going against a tough receiver crew in the Titans. That’s what we’re doing every single day. We know what we’re chasing, but this is all talk right now. We have to go to work.”
Byard has liked the look of things so far.
The Titans hired Dean Pees, formerly of the Ravens and Patriots, as the team’s defensive coordinator earlier this offseason. Fiery secondary coach Kerry Coombs has pushed the group with his enthusiastic approach.
New Titans coach Mike Vrabel inherited a team that went 9-7, and won a playoff game last year against the Chiefs. The expectations are high, Byard said.
“I think just different swagger, different confidence,” he said. “We know how far we came last year and we know what it’s going to have to take for us to get there again. So, we’re just taking everything step by step. Pretty much starting over, but at the same time realizing that, ‘Hey, we were two games away.”
The Titans wrap up their offseason work with a minicamp this week. Byard said he’s ready for the 2018 season, but he has some personal business first.
Off the field, his honeymoon hasn’t even begun.
He’s headed to Barbados in the near future.
“I’m getting married in three weeks, so that’s going to be fun,” Byard said with a smile. “A little honeymoon and then right back to grinding.”