All-Pro safety Kevin Byard has undergone a pretty sizeable transformation since joining the Tennessee Titans as a third-round draft pick in 2016. Over the last three years, he’s become a key member of the team’s defense and a prominent figure in the Nashville community.

“I think I’m just a lot more mature,” Byard said of his transformation, “understanding where I’m at as a leader of this team, understanding that guys like [Brian] Orakpo and Derrick Morgan aren’t here anymore, and we need guys to step up into a vocal leadership role.

“I don’t think a leader is something that can just happen, you have to be put into that position and you have to embrace the role. That’s something I’ve been trying to do this offseason.”

Byard repeatedly made headlines this offseason for his outreach to Titans fans and the Nashville community as a whole. He held many public autograph signings, allowed fans to ship their jerseys to the Titans facility to get them signed, and held multiple events for local youth.

“I’m just a genuine guy,” Byard said when asked about his motivation for reaching out to the community. “I think reaching out to fans—you never know just how much it’s going to make their day or their year, and that’s just something that’s important to me. It always touches me in my heart to see guys and to see people.

“I did a draft autograph signing, and there were a lady and her son who were last in line. They kind of cut the line off and she took a picture of him—he was really sad, so I told her to send me a jersey, and she sent me a video of her son smiling and opening the package. Those are the types of things that I really live for, other than making plays on the field.”

The Titans’ primary mantra during the offseason has been the idea of going “from good to great.” While it may be a bit cliché, Byard feels that having a catchphrase like that can actually benefit a team. It can keep them focused.

“Sometimes, I feel like it’s always good to have those cliché things because you can always have it pictured in your mind. But I think the main thing is having an urgency to understand that three 9-7 years isn’t good enough anymore. I think that you really have to have urgency and focus in on the small details, and I think those small can take us.

“If you look at every single year and breakdown the entire season, you take 5-6 plays here and there, you could be 12-4 or you could be 5-11 or something like that. I always think that we really have to hone in on those small things and figure out every little small way to make ourselves great, and I think that’s how you put the cliché together.”

Heading into his fourth year in the league, Byard has just one year left on his rookie contract. He figures to take in a massive payday whenever he signs his second contract, which will most likely be with the Titans.

Despite the added pressure, Byard plans on keeping his approach to the game the same as he always has. “I just understand that I’m a blessed individual,” he said. “As I said before, I hired an agent to work on those kinds of things, and I just try to work on my guys right now. No matter what contract talks or anything like that, I need to play big-time football this year.

“That’s something I’m always focused on, understanding that, no matter what happens, I want to have a great year this year, next year, and the year after that. I understand that having my mental focus on numbers and things like that will get in the way of putting in time in the film room, the weight room.”

Byard’s agent, David Mulugheta of Athletes First, successfully negotiated multiple nice free agent contracts for safeties during the offseason including the Titans’ own Kenny Vaccaro. That track record gives Byard some extra comfort.

“The comfort I get from that is just seeing those guys and the work they’ve put in for the few years that they’ve been in the league and to know that [the money] is well deserved. Guys are getting what they deserve. Hopefully, that can happen for me, but at the end of the day, as I said, if I focus on the right things, everything else will fall into place.”

Unlike other players across the league seeking contract extensions, Byard plans on being a full participant in mandatory minicamp next week. Based on his stellar on-field performance, there’s probably a pretty good chance he gets an extension before the season.

Cover image: Donald Page/Tennessee Titans

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