BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Titans safety Kevin Byard is coming off an All-Pro season. After leading the NFL in takeways, his arrow is clearly pointing up.
But will a change in defensive coordinator slow Byard’s progress?
No way, according to long-time NFL safety Bernard Pollard, who played under defensive coordinator Dean Pees with the Baltimore Ravens. Pollard, who played two seasons with the Titans, believes Byard could be an even bigger factor in the defense moving forward with Pees. The same goes for cornerback Adoree’ Jackson.
“With 31, I think coach Pees is going to use the piss out of him,” Pollard said of Byard. “That kid is good, man, and he is a player coach Pees is going to move around. And look at (Jackson) -- he will line up in a couple of spots rather than just being outside. I think coach Pees will change some things around and give those guys more responsibility. I think you could see (Jackson) blitzing more.
“He is going to put guys in a position to make plays.”
The Titans hired Pees on Tuesday to replace defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau under new head coach Mike Vrabel. On Wednesday, Pollard provided some insight on Pees. Pollard played nine NFL seasons, and was coached two seasons (2011-12) by Pees in Baltimore. They won a Super Bowl together in 2012.
Pees spent the last eight seasons (2010-17) with the Ravens, including the last six years (2012-17) as the defensive coordinator. He joined Ravens in 2010, as the linebackers coach. Three (2014,’15,’16) of his six years as defensive coordinator for the Ravens resulted in top 10 rankings on defense. Prior to coaching defense in Baltimore, Pees served as defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots.
“He is definitely a good hire,” Pollard said of Pees. “He is someone who knows and understands the defense. Before he was a d-coordinator, he was a rush linebacker coach in Baltimore. So he is going to be able to help the rush backers, but more importantly he is going to be able to bring some things to the defense that you really didn’t see them do. We all love Dick LeBeau, he has been awesome, but I think when you look at what coach Pees can do and how he calls games and the responsibilities players are going to hold, it is going to be a little different. And they are going to attack.”
The Titans finished 13th in the NFL in total defense in 2017, in terms of yards allowed. The Titans finished the year ranked fourth against the run, and 25th against the pass. The team was 17th in scoring defense, and finished the year with 43 sacks.
So, what will the defense look like under Pees? Pollard said he expects the defense will be a 3-4, with hybrid packages.
“He’ll be aggressive – he is an aggressive coach,” Pollard said. “But what coach Pees will do is when you have a certain defense you run well, when things aren’t going right, you go to it.
“They are going to have a defense where when all hell is breaking loose, they will have a go-to where guys can settle down and dominate in that defense. … I think with coach LeBeau they sometimes played so many different defenses and they showed so many different things, once something wasn’t going right, hell just kept breaking loose. With coach Pees you are going to have a defense for when hell is breaking loose and it will settle guys down.”
Pees will expect players to be accountable, and professional, Pollard said.
“Coach Pees is a grown man, and he is going to expect you to act like a grown man,” Pollard said. “He is not going to curse you, he wants things done right. He is going to build that trust. He fully expects you to understand, and if you don’t understand, ask questions. And he can read if a guy doesn’t understand it…
“Coach Pees is not a yeller. He will expect you to be a professional in the meetings, on the practice fields, and when you step in between those white lines on game day.”
Pollard, who like Byard wore No.31 with the Titans (in 2013 and 2014), expects the safeties to be more involved.
Byard had eight interceptions in 2017, along with two fumble recoveries. He played in the Pro Bowl on Sunday. Pollard said Byard reminds him of Earl Thomas, and Ed Reed, his teammate with the Ravens.
“Your safeties are going to have a little more responsibility, and with that is how Ed and I played with it, we were able to kind of make certain decisions in a football game because coach Pees trusted us. We showed him he can trust us with the plays in order to make certain checks, to be able to do certain things,” Pollard said.
“I think coach Pees can keep (Byard) on an upward swing. With his defense he is going to have even more responsibility. I think linebacker wise, he will help them out sending the right guys.
“I think he is going to be really good. If he can get the right pieces, I see nothing but the arrow going up for this team.”