TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: SAFETIES
In camp (6): Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro, Dane Cruikshank, Amani Hooker, LaDarius Wiley, JoJo Tillery.
Offseason developments: Back in March, the Titans re-signed Kenny Vaccaro, inking him to a multi-year deal to keep him from getting away after one season. On Wednesday night, the Titans and Kevin Byard agreed to terms on a multi-year deal. Now that's a pair of nice developments. In the NFL Draft, the Titans picked Iowa defensive back Amani Hooker in the fourth round. Former Vanderbilt safety LaDarius Wiley was signed as an undrafted free agent after working in the rookie camp on a tryout basis. The team also added JoJo Tillery (Wofford) as an undrafted free agent. Vaccaro invited Byard to Texas at the end of June's minicamp, and the two safeties trained together in Austin. The Titans parted ways with Johnathan Cyprien, who remains a free agent, and the team hasn't re-signed Brynden Trawick or Kendrick Lewis. The Titans released safety Damon Webb on Thursday.
In the spotlight: Byard. The former MTSU star earned his whopping contract, and will now aim to further establish himself as one of the best safeties in the game. Folks in Tennessee think he's already there. Byard is one of the leaders on the defense, and his relationship with Vaccaro is strong, which is important. With 12 interceptions over the past two seasons, Byard will use training camp to gear up for what should be another special season. In the season opener in Cleveland, he'll return to the scene of his three-interception game in 2017.
Battle to watch: Hooker vs. Cruikshank. Cruikshank was solid in his rookie season while playing in 12 games. While his work in the defense was limited, he did a good job on special teams, and he even scored on a 66-yard touchdown catch in a fake punt. He showed his toughness by returning from a shoulder injury faster than most expected. But in just a few months on the job, Hooker has already established himself as a legitimate option for playing time. He's instinctive, and tough. Cruikshank and Hooker are young and hungry, and battling for as many snaps as they can get.
Keep an eye on: A fifth safety? The Titans had five safeties on their final 53-man roster last season, and right now I can easily count to four – Byard, Vaccaro, Cruikshank and Hooker. But what about a fifth? In camp, several rookies and a returning DB will battle to make the most of their opportunities, but I wouldn't be shocked if the team explored other options here as well, depending on who's available. Defensive back Joshua Kalu, who is listed as a cornerback but can also play safety, has extra value because of his versatility and could earn a roster spot because of it.
Next up: Special teams.
TitansOnline.com looks back at safety Kevin Byard's 2018 season. (AP Photos)
TitansOnline.com looks back at veteran safety Kenny Vaccaro's 2018 season. (AP Photos)