TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: SAFETIES
In camp: Kevin Byard, Johnathan Cyprien, Dane Cruikshank, Kendrick Lewis, Brynden Trawick, Demontre Hurst, Damon Webb.
Offseason developments: Byard played in the Pro Bowl at the end of his second season, and vowed this offseason to be an even better leader in 2018. Trawick also earned Pro Bowl honors after last season for his work on special teams. The entire secondary was welcomed by a fiery coach in Kerry Coombs, who brings volume and plenty of coaching experience to the room. The Titans drafted Cruikshank in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, and signed the veteran Lewis following a tryout. Hurst is has worked at a safety, and figures to compete there in training camp as well. Webb was signed as an undrafted free agent. Da’Norris Searcy was released, and he signed with the Panthers. Former Titans safety Curtis Riley joined the Giants.
In the spotlight: Byard. The MTSU product took the NFL by storm in 2017, when he led the league with 10 takeaways, including eight interceptions. Byard was a true ball hawk, and he changed the look of the defense on the back end. With improved play around him, he’ll be in position for another big year. Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees raved about Byard during the offseason because of his work ethic, and approach. What Byard does for an encore after an All-Pro season should be fun to watch.
Battle to watch: Lewis vs Cruikshank. Byard and Cyprien are locked in as the starters at safety, and their chemistry was good when they were on the field together in the second half of 2017. The Titans have competition behind them, and Lewis and Cruikshank, at different stages of their respective careers, are battling for snaps. A veteran of seven NFL seasons, Lewis was teammates with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel in Kansas City. He came on at the end of the offseason. Cruikshank has a lot on his plate as a rookie, but the team likes his potential. I think it’s probably a safe bet that Cruikshank is going to make the team, but he’ll need to settle in to earn snaps on top of special teams work. Lewis is fighting for a roster spot, and playing time.
Keep an eye on: Cyprien. After signing with the team last March, Cyprien had an unfortunate start to his Titans career. He suffered a hamstring injury in Week One, and was sidelined for six straight games. When he returned, he began to prove his value. Cyprien recorded at least six tackles in five of the team’s last seven games, including games with 8, 8, 9 and 10 stops. His big hit knocked Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce out of the playoff game in January. If Cyprien stays healthy alongside Byard, this should be a good tandem.
Next up: Special teams.