TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: SAFETIES
In camp (7): Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro, Amani Hooker, Dane Cruikshank, Ibraheim Campbell, Joshua Kalu, Chris Jackson.
Offseason developments: With players banned from the team facility because of the coronavirus pandemic, Byard once again led a group that worked out together in Murfreesboro. As part of his offseason prep work, he also worked on his brain with NeuroTrainer, a futuristic, virtual reality-based system designed to help athletes train their minds for better performance. The Titans signed Ibraheim Campbell, who has played in 53 NFL games, most recently with the Packers. The team drafted versatile defensive back Chris Jackson in the seventh-round of the NFL Draft out of Marshall, and while he'll work primarily with the safeties the Titans will try him at a number of spots. On the coaching staff, Scott Booker was promoted to safeties coach, his area of emphasis since joining Mike Vrabel's staff as a defensive assistant in 2018.
In the spotlight: Byard. Now in his fifth season, Byard has blossomed into one of the NFL's best safeties. The former MTSU star leads the NFL in interceptions over the past three seasons, tallying 17 from 2017-19. In 2019, Byard led the team in interceptions (5) for the third consecutive season, while also starting every game for the third year in a row. Byard has vowed to step up even more as a leader moving forward, and his presence in the secondary will once again be a soothing sight for Titans coaches, and fans.
Battle to watch: Amani Hooker vs. Dane Cruikshank. Both of these guys are making the team, and they'll make contributions this fall on special teams and in the defense. Will one of them move into an even bigger role in the defense this fall? Cruikshank, who is headed into his third year, has proven to be a reliable pro during his time in the league. He's shown toughness, and he's played through injuries while working primarily on special teams. Hooker was among the most promising newcomers in last year's camp, and he earned snaps on defense. While he was solid during his rookie season, he didn't produce game-changing plays. With a year under his belt, that could be the next step from the fourth round pick out of Iowa in the 2019 draft. He's expected to work himself into situational packages on defense.
Keep an eye on: Kenny Vaccaro. While Byard roams the back end looking for footballs in the air, Vaccaro looks for bodies to hit. And the physical safety has shown a knack for making big plays himself. Vaccaro recorded his third season with at least 100 tackles in 2019, and he also recorded an interception in the regular season and the playoffs. He's a tone-setting player who is great pairing with Byard and probably doesn't get as much recognition as he deserves.
A look back at safety Kevin Byard's 2019 season that saw him lead the team for the third consecutive season and tie for fourth in the NFL with five interceptions. (Photos: Donald Page)
Titans Online looks back at safety Kenny Vaccaro's 2019 season (Photos: Donald Page)