Byard Says Hooker Has Followed Proper Path to Leadership

Tennessee Titans safeties plan to make themselves heard in first season as a starting pair.
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Amani Hooker figures to make a bigger impact in more than one way this season.

First, the Tennessee Titans safety figures to be a full-time starter for the first time in his career after the team released veteran Kenny Vaccaro as part of a secondary overhaul in March.

He also hopes to be more of a leader for the defensive unit.

And nobody knows how to properly establish leadership than the man he will be playing beside in the defensive backfield this season, Kevin Byard, who has been a team captain in each of the past two seasons.

In order to become a good leader, Byard said, one must first be a good follower. And Hooker has done that well over his first two NFL seasons.

“I think Amani has been a great follower since he’s been here,” Byard said. “Watching me and (Vaccaro), or just watching any of the veteran guys and learning from them, learning how to be a pro.”

A third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State in 2016, that’s exactly how Byard became one of the Titans’ most prominent voices in the locker room, for both on and off-field matters.

The Pro Bowler and All-Pro observed and learned from the likes of defensive back Jason McCourty and linebacker Brian Orapko.

Not only would Byard listen to what veterans had to say on a daily basis, but he paid close attention to the smallest of details. In the NFL, of course, doing the “little things” matters most.

“One thing that I did when I first got into the league was I looked at the parking lot,” Byard said. “When I got there in the morning, I was looking at cars ... what car is here early in the morning? Okay, this guy here. I was asking Jason, ‘Hey, what time are you getting here in the morning? Why are you coming here so early?’ They were getting rehab or doing the little things.”

A fourth-round pick out of Iowa in 2019, Hooker’s ascension to a more significant role on the defense started last season. His snaps with the defense increased, and when Vaccaro missed three games due to a lingering concussion, Hooker was called upon to start.

He finished tied for the team lead in interceptions with four and second in passes defended eight while also making 51 total tackles. All of those marks are career-highs.

Entering the 2021 season, Hooker is in a position to evolve as a leader for many reasons. Many younger players will fill the secondary after numerous moves in free agency and the NFL Draft.

But most importantly, he’s taken after many veterans over his first two seasons, including Byard.

“He’s into that role where he’s out there playing, he’s out there being more vocal, making calls and checks. That’s the start of it,” Byard said. “Going out there being sure of yourself, knowing what you need to do. When you assure yourself and know what you need to do, you can coach another guy up. I think he’s been doing pretty great at that.

“I think we’re going to be pretty good running mates this year.”