One of Jon Robinson’s earliest, boldest moves was taking the local safety from just down the road in Murfreesboro. Kevin Byard was the Titans 2016 third round pick, despite not even getting invite to the NFL combine just two months before. Byard was one of Robinson’s many “production guys,” tallying 19 career picks while at MTSU.
Byard made his presence felt early on in the preseason, snagging two picks in his four preseason appearances. That early success earned him playing time in a rotational role early in the regular season. Buried behind Rashad Johnson, Da’Norris Searcy and Daimion Stafford, Byard played sparingly in the first half of the year. But he earned his first start during week 10 and never looked back.
Now, the second year safety will be centerpiece in the secondary — but don’t expect Byard to be filling just one specific role. If 2016 is any indication, Byard is going to be all over the place in Dick LeBeau’s formations.
I saw him play everywhere from centerfield, manning up tight ends, in the box and even as a blitzer. There’s a theme with this entire Titans team — versatility. It’s pretty clear they want guys that can do a variety of different things, rather than just fill one specific role. Byard is the perfect example of that, playing several different roles and positions within the defense.
When you talk Kevin Byard, you’ve got to start at the line of scrimmage. Byard (surprisingly) spend a ton of time in this area — you’ll quickly realize why. This is his first regular season game of his career and he immediately makes an impact. He takes on the block from Diggs, quickly sheds and pushes the play wide with help from others. I remember watching this play and being somewhat surprised, being that all we had heard to this point was about his ball skills and ability in coverage.
Here’s another example that’s a little bit cleaner. Byard is basically in a linebacker role here, playing the run all the way. He sees his gap open and he attacks after the fullback misses him. It’s a simple play, but I think it speaks to what his role will be here in the future. They trust him to do a little bit of everything — but I was surprised at the work he got right off the bat inside the box.
Another simple play that won’t make the highlight reel, but this is a play that the Titans struggled to make in years past. Byard squares up and makes the open field tackle. Having safeties that can tackle seems like such a routine thing, but the Titans haven’t had guys that could make the simple plays like this at safety for some time.
This play gives you a look at Byard reading and reacting. This is a pretty simple clear-out concept that is designed to get the slot man the ball in space. Byard isn’t having it. He sniffs if out immediately and takes a perfect angle to Jordy Nelson.
This one is one of my favorite reps that I saw. I really hate the receiver screen phenomenon that seems to be taking over football, so anyone who willing blows that play up, I’m going to be a fan of. Byard does that here. I love how quickly he picks up on this play. He gets aggressive and ends up (accidentally?) taking out the picking receiver. He takes down his man too for good measure.
Onto some coverage stuff. I though Byard’s best work was in man coverage last season. He was placed on the tight end quite a bit in a variety of different ways. This time, he’s on Antonio Gates who is split out wide. Gates runs a pretty nice little slant pattern, but watch Byard recover. He initially bites outside, but he’s able to regroup and get a hand on the football.
Here you see Byard taking responsibility for the running back coming out of the backfield. When the back stays in to block, Byard stays put and reads the quarterback’s eyes. He follows them right to the football and makes a play on the football.
I was surprised to see a lack of deep half or single high play from Byard. They seemed to love him playing around the line of scrimmage. He blitzed, took on tight ends and backs and was pretty effective doing so. He’s a bit of a swiss army knife.
Now, I do believe his 2017 role will be slightly different. Rashad Johnson and Daimion Stafford are no longer in the picture, which is going to free up a lot of snaps. Johnathan Cyprien is a box guy, so I would guess that would eat into Byard’s box snaps. Will we see more of Byard deep? I’d guess we would. Da’Norris Searcy is probably going to handle plenty of single high responsibilities too.
The safety spot is one of the great unknowns heading into this season. I can’t wait to see how they use everyone together — but I’m guessing Kevin Byard emerges from the pack as the unrivaled leader.