NASHVILLE – Kevin Byard is always looking for an edge.
This offseason, the Titans safety has continued to work on strengthening his game with training and film study while looking to improve his technique on the field.
Byard has also worked on his brain with NeuroTrainer, a futuristic, virtual reality-based system designed to help athletes train their minds for better performance.
"When I first heard about it, it was intriguing," Byard said. "It was supposed to be something while when you're quarantining and in the house, you can put these virtual reality headsets on and it's supposed to help you be mentally quicker, crisp, and it trains your mind in clutch situations, things like that.
"Honestly, I can't say it's helped me on the field yet because we haven't played football. But every session that I did, I improved. My scores kept getting better."
NeuroTrainer is a Bay Area company which uses "neuroscience and virtual reality to optimize brain performance and collect neurocognitive data that leads to improved decision making, focus and vision," according the company.
The product isn't part of the team's offseason work, but Byard was recruited to use the headset device earlier this offseason as part of a brain training competition.
Byard was one of fourteen athletes representing MLB, NBA, NFL, NWSL, USA Water Polo and WNBA that went head-to-head in a challenge using NeuroTrainer's VR-based training system.
As part of the system, the athletes found themselves immersed in a futuristic training ground to "boost their athletic skills, making them constantly evaluate the visual landscape around them to make split-second decisions."
"I remember when I first came into the NFL, a lot of vets used to always tell me: This game is more about mental than physical" Byard said. "And I am starting to really understand it, because football is like a chess match, with different matchups, quarterbacks going up against different guys - you want to be able to sharpen yourself up to be the best player that you can be. A lot of guys work on their physical and don't work on their mental. I try to work on both.
"At this point in my career, it is more about sharpening the mental part of your game. I want to add to my game any way I can."
In addition to Byard, Texans linebacker Benardrick McKinney and Rams punter Johhny Hekker also took part in the competition.
Other athletes who took part in the NeuroTrainer challenge: Chiney Ogwumike (WNBA), Jasmine Taylor (WNBA), Maggie Steffens (USA WWP), Grant Williams (NBA), Tacko Fall (NBA), Matt Duffy (MLB), Robert Covington (NBA), Abby Erceg (NWSL), Aubrey Bledsoe (NWSL) and Kelsey Plum (WNBA).
Neuroscientist and founder Jeff Nyquist developed a variety of exercises with NeuroTrainer geared to improve athletic skill development, including hand-eye coordination, decision making, focus, vision, resilience under pressure.
Byard, who has 17 interceptions over the past three seasons, has broken out the virtual reality headsets when he gets a break on "daddy duty."
He hopes it will help him break up more passes – and get even more interceptions – this fall.
"It only takes about 15 minutes," Byard said. "I feel like it works on the cognitive part of your brain where you are trying to be quicker, you are trying to be faster, trying to react in different situations.
"I think anything you can do to help you improve and sharpen your mind, it's a good thing."
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)