NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Titans rookie safety Kevin Byard only returned one punt while playing at MTSU, but it was a dandy.
"It was actually pooch punt, by the quarterback,'' reminded Byard, thinking back to the team's 2014 game vs. Old Dominion. "It was kind of in the game plan where we knew they'd do it. Coach told me to go back there and play deep, deep middle, and I did."
Byard made the most of it.
"I ended up picking it up and scoring,'' Byard said of the 76-yard return. "It was a Top 10 play on ESPN. It was great. It was my first one."
It sounds like he's going to get a chance to do it again.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey said this week the team plans to give Byard and fellow rookie defensive back Kalan Reed a chance in the return game in Saturday's preseason game against the Panthers. Both players have regularly caught balls in practice to get prepared.
Byard, who ran a 4.5 in his Pro Day at MTSU, is ready, and confident.
"I just feel like when I get the ball in my hands, I know what to do with it,'' Byard said. "Protect the ball, and I'm going to score. It's something I am definitely planning on doing this Saturday against the Panthers.
"It is all about being versatile, and doing as much as I can to help this team win. And I definitely have some speed to break one."
Mularkey loves Byard's play-making ability, and instincts.
He complimented Byard for his aggressiveness in the team's preseason opener against the Chargers, when Byard got up and ran after intercepting Chargers quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Byard, a third-round pick, made his way down the field and avoided tackles before being wrestled down.
Officials ended up ruling Byard down after review, but the play stuck in Mularkey's mind.
"You saw him with the interception, what he did with the ball," Mularkey said of Byard. "When we initially discussed drafting him, I talked to (general manager Jon Robinson) about his return ability because, 'What's the difference between an interception and what I saw on tape on his interceptions in school?' What he did with the ball afterward. Now, if you put him back there and he returns punts, where you've actually got guys designed blocking for him, what can he do then? You saw on Saturday night what he is capable of doing with the football in his hands."
The Titans select Middle Tennessee State S Kevin Byard in the third round (64th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. (AP Photos)