All-Pro safety no longer needs Deion Sanders' tweet for fuelTennessee Titans defensive back Kevin Byard runs a drill during NFL football training camp Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. Byard has been called just a "fan" on Twitter by Hall of Famer Deion Sanders. Well, Byard is busy working hard for a follow-up to his second season in the NFL when he tied for the league-lead with eight interceptions earning both All Pro and Pro Bowl honors. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Kevin Byard no longer needs the tweet of Deion Sanders calling the All-Pro and Pro Bowl safety ''a fan'' as the lock screen on his cellphone.
The Tennessee Titans safety believes he squeezed all the motivation needed from that Twitter exchange, which fueled him throughout the offseason in his quest to be the NFL's best in his third season.
''You could be All-Pro, no matter what, you still have guys, you still have things to prove,'' Byard said Tuesday. ''You still have to keep working.''
That Twitter exchange in March started after the Hall of Fame cornerback and now NFL Network analyst tabbed Tyrann Mathieu as the NFL's top safety. Byard tweeted at Sanders , asking how he didn't mention either of 2017's All-Pro safeties. Sanders responded he knew who players and former players believe is the league's best.
''You continue to be a fan and i will continue being the man,'' Sanders wrote back to Byard on Twitter . Byard answered back that neither numbers nor film added up with Sanders overlooking Minnesota's Harrison Smith, Earl Thomas of Seattle and Kansas City's Eric Berry.
Byard's numbers in 2017 speak for themselves.
He led the NFL with 10 total takeaways and tied for the league lead with a career-high eight interceptions and 87 total tackles to earn All-Pro honors along with his first Pro Bowl berth. He had the most interceptions by a player for this franchise since Richard Johnson had eight picks in 1990 for the then-Houston Oilers.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has coached safeties such as Ed Reed in his career. He's not looking to compare Byard to anyone, but Pees has made clear how impressed he is by Byard's hard work, leadership and professionalism.
''He'll come in and tell me, we always try to keep ahead of them and let them know what's coming in in the next day, and he'll come back the next day and have a question on something we haven't even covered yet, which tells me then he's doing all the right things,'' Pees said.
Byard had eight of the Titans' 12 interceptions last season, and the secondary has been working together since March with the target of being the NFL's best group.
Tennessee added cornerback Malcolm Butler to the group as a free agent, then lost safety Johnathan Cyprien last week with a torn ACL.
All the chemistry Byard and Cyprien had been working on over the past year and half now is gone. The Titans signed veteran Kenny Vaccaro on Saturday to replace Cyprien, and Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Byard will play a critical role in helping Vaccaro get in sync with the secondary. The Titans open the preseason Thursday night at Green Bay.
He's already seen Byard meeting individually with Dane Cruikshank in training camp to help the rookie learn, impressive to see in a young player.
''Kevin has taken on a really nice leadership role with our team,'' Vrabel said. ''He started in the offseason with his ability to come in here and work and be diligent in his training, continued by his studying and learning the defense and being able to explain it to guys.''
The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Byard was the first pick of the third round in 2016 out of Middle Tennessee. Now the safety who's always been confident in what he can do believes he can do even more in the NFL.
''I feel like I barely scratched the surface with my potential,'' Byard said.
''And I just want to keep getting better. But at the end of the day, it's all about the team and I want to be able to bring everybody along because you know I could be All-Pro and all that stuff. But we're not winning games, we're not winning championships, it really doesn't matter in my opinion.''
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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