Titans safety Kevin Byard on Mike Vrabel's 'bring it' attitude

NFL Media's Oklahoma Drill series presents exclusive, quick-hitting one-on-one interviews with players and coaches from around the league. No nonsense -- just football experiences directly from the source.

Kevin Byard

Safety, Tennessee Titans

Born: Aug. 17, 1993

Experience: Two NFL seasons

Interview by Nick Shook | April 3, 2018

[Being overlooked] is something I've embraced for a long time because I think not coming from a school like Florida State, Alabama and things like that, I don't kind of get the credit I deserve, or I might not have the household name, especially being in Nashville. I don't think we get any respect anyway. I definitely think I have to keep working and keep working.

It's always going to drive me, because when I was actually in high school, I had an offer from Kentucky [where] I thought I was going to go play receiver. They ended up pulling my offer for a guy who was at Alabama -- they got him to de-commit -- and Lord knows where he's at right now. I've just been using plenty of motivation along the way, and I feel like even at this stage right now, man, there's plenty of work to be done.

You have to win games to get respect. I see on TV, I see a lot of teams get talked about a lot of times when they haven't even won the same amount of games that we've won the past couple of years. Being 9-7, even though that's not the greatest record, [and] at the same time I think it's our market, it doesn't get paid attention to. We have great players on our team and we don't really get talked about a lot.

First Pro Bowl, first-team All-Pro in my second year, and I think I still had to work like I was in last place last year.

I had the No. 1 fan vote [among free safeties for the Pro Bowl]. I feel like everybody watching the game knew what I was doing, but I still didn't get in. I was actually a second alternate, which I really was confused about.

The past few years, [the Ravens] led the league in interceptions [under new Titans DC Dean Pees]. That got me smiling pretty much. With his philosophy and the guys he had, I think we'll have great success, and I think Mike Vrabel's gonna add intensity to practices, intensity to the game and intensity to our team that's gonna try to take this league by storm.

I go from Dick LeBeau to Dean Pees, so I got two legendary coaches.

I can just tell that [Vrabel's] gonna bring it. I think he's gonna treat players with respect. I think if you respect the game, you respect coming to practice on time and just being a good teammate, I think he'll give you great respect. And if you don't, I think he'll treat you as such.

I think [the game] slowed down my rookie year. After the first couple of games, it was just kind of you being out there trying to get your feet wet. I think that's one of the reasons I wasn't starting at the beginning of the year, but I started getting better and playing better toward the end of the year. Week 10 against the Green Bay Packers, I had my first start and got a sack against Aaron Rodgers and balled out that game. It was kind of murder she wrote after that one.

Second year, I watched a whole bunch of film from the first year and tried to find things I could fix. Coming back your second year, you feel so much more comfortable, you know the defense more, you're pretty much just reviewing. Once I was able to learn the defense, to master all that -- not just what I'm doing, [but] what the corner's doing, the linebacker's doing, what everybody else is doing -- I've been more comfortable in what I'm doing and what everybody's doing on the field.

I honestly feel like I'm going to get even better this year.

Don't get me wrong: I didn't expect to have eight picks [in 2017]. I hope to have this kind of success [again].

It was crazy -- it just kept coming in bunches. [DeShone] Kizer just kept throwing them up there. It was crazy, because the next game in Baltimore, I should've had three picks in that game, as well.

My football IQ is going to take me to the ball every time. I feel like that's what most people don't understand. People say, 'Oh, it kind of fell in your lap,' but you gotta be there to make the play. I've seen guys drop picks all the time. Adoree' [Jackson] should've had three or four picks this year, but he dropped a few. So, hey, you gotta make those plays.

I trained with [Malcolm Butler] a little bit [at the end of March]. It's funny, because this whole offseason, I got all the guys, all the DBs working out with my trainer from college. We've all been grinding out in Tennessee for the most part. If you see an All-Pro guy, you definitely want to train with him. I feel like we've all been grinding real hard together.

[Butler and Vrabel] won Super Bowls. I think when you've got guys who've won it and done it, you can always buy into what they're saying. I had Logan [Ryan] talk about it all last year, like, 'We have to be a close [unit].' I feel like when they were in New England, they were a close DB group, and when you get that bond together, that's how you win games.

We definitely weren't expected to get to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. So to get that success, and then we added a few more pieces, I mean, in Nashville right now, it's going crazy. Last year, we had the [NHL's] Predators go all the way to the [Stanley Cup Finals], so Nashville was already buzzing. I think the Preds are going to have the same kind of run this year, so the city is behind our team unlike I've ever seen before. I've been in the middle Tennessee area the last six, seven years, and I have never seen sports in Nashville like this right now.

It was funny, because [Deion Sanders] still never answered my question. He never really backtracked on what he said because I feel like he didn't recognize who he was talking to and probably thought it was a fan. I feel like he could've been man enough to say, 'I did make a mistake,' but I can't really expect that from Deion.

At the end of the day, that just proves my whole life story of being overlooked and things like that. I have to keep fighting for my respect. I've played with plenty of guys who have never [been] All-Pros -- might go to the Pro Bowl, but were never All-Pros. I think that a guy like him, as an analyst, would've done that, but hey, it is what it is.

Eventually, he's gonna be talking about me again this year, so we'll see what happens.

I have [become a hockey fan]. I ain't even gonna lie. We don't have too many sports to go to, so I'm behind the Preds. I went to at least one playoff game every round last year. I went to like two finals games. Hockey is so nuts. It's only like 12,000 to 13,000 seats in there, but it feels a lot louder than our games. It's definitely rowdy; it's definitely a great experience.

[Getting drafted by Tennessee], I had my fanbase still in that same area, so a lot of people think I'm from Nashville. I definitely don't mind it. I think it's been great. A lot of guys, my rookie class, they were coming from all different kinds of places, and I just had to move 30 minutes up the street. I could've kept my old college apartment, for real.

I liked our jerseys last year, but I think this year, man, it's the buzz leading into the season with the new jerseys. I think it's going to be great. I think fans are going to be pretty excited about it.

You go through your little interviews and things like that at the Senior Bowl, but actually, what had happened was, I caught a real good interception over the deep middle from Jacoby Brissett. A lot of social media went kind of crazy, everybody was like, Oh, Kevin Byard, this and that, so in the back of my head, I'm like, I know I'm about to get this combine invite, because I still didn't have one. By the end of the time I was down there, I still didn't have it. I was mad at my agent. I was mad at everybody, trying to figure out what's going on, like, Why I ain't got a combine invite?

I went to my pro day, and I ran like a 4.45. I had some real good numbers, and after that, I just had visits lined up and lined up and lined up. Every time I sat down with a coach or GM, they just started to like me a lot more. I was [going] from airport to airport to airport, and my agent would call me like, 'Man, I don't know what's going on, but you're starting to rise up.'

I was in Miami, and that was my last visit. I was going to be done with everything, and my agent called me and was like, 'The Titans want to come work you out.' I'm like, 'Man, I've been on the road a week or two. ... I'm not ready, man. Call it off.' He said, 'I'm gonna do what I can.' So he called me back, and he was like, 'Listen, the GM's gonna be there, the head coach is gonna be there, the D-coordinator is gonna be there, Dick LeBeau and the DB coach. ... I think you really need to go.' So I was like, 'I'ma go, I'ma go.'

I sat down with LeBeau and watched some film with him. He said, 'Man, it's probably one of the better visits I had with a DB this year.' I think [he] was more shocked of how I was able to recall the things my DB coach [taught me]. I was able to recall [info] real fast, and he was like, 'Man, you probably did some of the best of the DBs in the draft.' It was an honor to hear that from him.

I pretty much know I'm the leader of the secondary, for sure. Dick LeBeau put that on me as a rookie. My DB coach, Deshea Townsend, who played for the Steelers for a long time, he said most rookies don't play in this [system]. [Former Steelers safety] Troy Polamalu didn't really play like that; he played special teams his first year, because it's hard to learn. I was able to pick it up pretty fast, and then my second year, they just pretty much gave me everything, so I was able to get people lined up and things like that. I got a whole new defensive coordinator this year, but I'm pretty sure it won't be nothing to learn a new defense.

I think football is football. I think you either have it or you don't.

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