Eagles feature

Why Kevin Byard demands strong communication in the secondary

The Eagles added Kevin Byard and Bradley Roby mid-season and are feeling the benefit of their experience.

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Kevin Byard didn’t ask. He demanded.

“As soon as he walked in the meeting room, he demanded communication from everybody,” Reed Blankenship said.

Demanded? How?

“Like, legit demand,” Blankenship said. “Like, ‘Give me a nickel call!’ He’s demonstrative with that. That’s what you need.”

Byard, 30, didn’t waste much time showing off his leadership qualities after getting traded to Philadelphia on Oct. 23. Byard is big on communication in the secondary.

Byard explained that communication was very important to Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and it’s become very important to him too. Even though Byard is a newcomer in Philly, he’s been trying to increase that communication among the Eagles’ defensive backs.

“It’s a professional football league, man,” Byard said. “In the secondary, there has to be an elite level of communication if you want to be a good secondary. That’s just the bottom line.

“There’s no secrets on the field. You could pretty much say anything. As long as guys are talking, you kind of feel a calmness to the defense. And also, it just helps the man next to you. Receive a call, give a call. That’s just something I’m just trying to bring along with the group.”

Some new guys join an organization with established veteran leaders and tip-toe. For instance, a few seasons ago, when the Eagles brought in Michael Bennett before the 2018 season, he admitted it took a little while for him to find his place in the Eagles’ locker room.

Byard hasn’t been tip-toeing.

“I think I just study a lot,” he said. “When I first got here, I needed to learn the playbook and I’m still learning. I still have a lot of things I can improve on. But the type of experience that I’ve had, I’ve played well over a hundred games. Knocking on wood, I’ve never missed a game. I’ve seen a lot of offenses, I’ve seen a lot of things. And some of these teams we’ve played, like the Chiefs and the Bills. I played the Bills five years straight. 

“So there’s a lot of things that they do that I’m trying to relay to these guys because they might not be familiar with a lot of these AFC teams but I am. So that’s just something I’m trying to bring along and bring with me, my level of expertise and experience.”

And the thing is, the Eagles now have a ton of experience in their secondary with Byard, Darius Slay, James Bradberry and nickel corner Bradley Roby. The only young starting defensive back is safety Reed Blankenship.

Roby, 31, joined the Eagles in early October and played just a couple games before suffering a shoulder injury. But he returned for the Chiefs game and made a huge play as the Eagles returned from the bye.

Since Roby arrived in Philly before Byard, he has a unique perspective on the addition of the former All-Pro safety.

“I’ve just seen the change a veteran presence makes,” Roby said. “A guy that’s played for a long time, seen a lot of ball, played against a lot of people. The vets, we pay attention to the details. We’re very communicative and talkative on the field and alerting each other on what’s going to happen. All of that raises the level in the building. He is who he is and I am who I am. I just think a lot of confusion is starting to be eliminated.”

For the first half of the season, there was a lot of fan angst about the Eagles secondary but that group held Patrick Mahomes to 177 passing yards on Monday night. While there will be some pressure to retool this offseason, the rest of the 2023 season features a ton of veterans back there.

And two of them weren’t here when the season began. But both Byard and Roby have fit in nicely with this group.

“I think we’re still coming together,” Roby said. “That was the first game we all played together. But I think every week we’re going to be getting better. We’re changing up what we’re doing but we’re handling it better. Our adjustments, we’re handling better and picking up faster.”

While Roby has played for several different teams before, Byard had played his first 7 1/2 years in the NFL with the Titans, who drafted him in the third round back in 2016 out of Middle Tennessee State.

Byard became a great player and a leader in Tennessee and admitted that he initially hoped he would be able to retire as a Titan. He says most players hope to finish their careers with the team that drafted them. But years in the NFL make it clear that the league is a business.

“So you always in the back of your mind realize you might play for a different team or something like that,” Byard said. “I wouldn’t say it’s something that I wanted but at the same time, God works in mysterious ways and what other team would I want to play for other than the Philadelphia Eagles?”

The Eagles over the last couple of years have brought in a bunch of veterans during the season. Last year with Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph. This year with Julio Jones, Byard and Roby. 

They seem to welcome in new players relatively easy, which isn’t by accident. Head coach Nick Sirianni on Wednesday credited GM Howie Roseman and the pro personnel staff for bringing in great players who happen to be good people and good teammates. That helps the transition.

But the culture helps too.

“Make no mistake about it, it's a reflection of how our locker room currently is,” Sirianni said. “Where they know these guys are coming in to help our goal, which is just to win this week, and they open their arms to them and accept them into the team. …

“So, it's really a cool thing to see because that's to me a definition of a team, right, of what our locker room is like. It's led by our captains and players.”

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