Titans safety finally shows off his ball-hawking skills
By TERESA M. WALKER
Nov. 03, 2017
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — If Tennessee safety Kevin Byard keeps picking off passes at this rate, maybe announcers will figure out how to say his name correctly.
The second-year safety ranks second in the NFL with four interceptions thanks to the NFL's best single-game performance in six years with his hat trick of three picks in his previous game . Byard, pronounced BY-urd and not by-ARD, also has a fumble recovery all in his past four games.
"I think I'm in one of those zones," Byard said. "Overthrows, things like that just keep coming my way, so as long as I keep doing what I'm doing hopefully they'll keep coming."
Better yet for the Titans (4-3), defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau expects much, much more. LeBeau said what impressed him the most about Byard's performance in Cleveland was how the interceptions came on top of the safety calling the defensive plays and supporting against the run.
"He just had an outstanding game ...," LeBeau said Thursday. "There's not too many guys that got three picks in one game, so he's in some rare company."
Byard's three-interception performance tied the franchise record last matched by linebacker Keith Bulluck at New Orleans on Sept. 24, 2007. It was the first three-interception game in the NFL since Philadelphia safety Kurt Coleman picked off three passes Oct. 16, 2011, at Washington.
That's exactly why the Titans made Byard the first pick of the third round in 2016 at No. 64 overall. Byard intercepted 19 passes at Middle Tennessee, and his football role models all were ball-hawking safeties: Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Brian Dawkins.
Byard started the final seven games as a rookie and finished fifth on the team with 63 tackles. But the 5-foot-11, 212-pound safety didn't get his hands on a single interception. The drought continued through the first three games of this season, finally ending in his 20th NFL game when his interception was lost in a 57-14 rout at Houston.
"I was feeling kind of nervous that it wasn't going to come," Byard said. "My college coaches always told me, 'You're not going to get a pick every game, you just got to keep playing your technique. They can throw the ball 100 times, and that one time you have to be in position to make the play.' It's been happening like that so far."
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who had Reed play five seasons for him, certainly has noticed Byard in preparing for Sunday when the Ravens (4-4) visit the Titans. The Ravens lead the NFL with 12 interceptions themselves.
"Byard is a guy that is playing at a high level," Harbaugh said.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey says Byard is just a good football player who studies so much tape that the safety already can anticipate plays before the ball is snapped.
"Hopefully, he continues on what he's been doing," Mularkey said. "That's what we drafted him for in the first place. His production of turnovers in college was astronomical, so hopefully it continues."
LeBeau, who coached Polamalu in Pittsburgh, is expecting just that.
"I still think he's got a lot of improvement in front of him," LeBeau said.
NOTES: DeMarco Murray said social media speculation that he might be traded before Tuesday's deadline was just wishful thinking by some in Dallas. He said he wants to retire with the Titans and that Roger Staubach has about as much a chance of playing for the Cowboys again as he does. ... Mularkey said LG Quinton Spain (turf toe) will miss Sunday's game with the Ravens. Brian Schwenke will start. TE Delanie Walker (ankle), WR Taywan Taylor (personal reasons), RT Jack Conklin (illness) and LB Nate Palmer (ankle) did not practice.
(This story has been corrected to show Byard's performance tied franchise mark last matched by linebacker Keith Bulluck in 2007 rather than set by Bulluck.)
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker