Byard jersey

Titans safety Kevin Byard was surprised at training camp Thursday by the announcement from MTSU President Sidney McPhee and head coach Rick Stockstill that the school is retiring his No. 20 jersey. 

Titans safety Kevin Byard is having his college number retired at Middle Tennessee State University. School president Sidney McPhee and Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill surprised Byard with the announcement after Thursday’s training camp practice.

Byard, a two-time All-Pro for the Titans, will officially have his No. 20 retired on Sept. 30 when Middle Tennessee hosts Texas-San Antonio at Floyd Stadium. It is just the second jersey retired by Blue Raider football, joining Teddy Morris, whose No. 14 was retired in the 1960s.

Byard wound up at MTSU out of high school after Kentucky backed out its commitment to him.

“I wasn’t prepared for that, but honestly this jersey is fire. I love it, love it. What an honor,” he said.

Byard said Stockstill’s recruitment of him made signing with Middle Tennessee the obvious right choice.

“Just going back to those days at MTSU, and honestly going back to recruiting days when Coach Stock came into that (high school) gym and kept it real with me. He said, if that school does not come through for you, come play ball for me at MT,” Byard said. “That always stuck with me, and I’ve always appreciated the mentor and father figure role you played in my life. I played with a lot of great players at MTSU and for a lot of great coaches. I couldn’t have done it on my own. A lot of people I want to be able to thanks. I just want to say thank you. … I’m so grateful, and I know my mother would be so proud of me in this moment right now. I’m really at a loss for words.”

Stockstill said Byard has always had a professional approach and attitude from the first day he came to MTSU.

“I told Jon Robinson when he came in and they were evaluating Kevin before the draft. I told him that he came in as a professional. He did everything right and had an incredible work ethic and was extremely focused on his goals and what he wanted to accomplish, not only as a student and as a football player, but as a man,” Stockstill said. “He came in as a professional. He knew how to work and worked hard.”

First pick

Not only did Byard receive a, honor of having his college jersey retired, he also had a good day on the practice field. Byard also became the first Titans defender to intercept quarterback Ryan Tannehill in training camp this year. The pick came when Byard leaped up and snared Tannehill’s throw in the two-minute drill that was intended for tight end Austin Hooper.

Up and down

Rookie quarterback Malik Willis had an up-and-down day throwing the football. He struggled in a one-on-one drill, sailing a couple of passes incomplete and bouncing another short of a receiver.

But in a red zone seven-on-seven period, the 2022 third-round pick, was much sharper. One on play, he scrambled to his right, finding nothing open, but came back to the left and found Josh Malone, who had adjusted his route by coming back toward the ball in the front corner of the end zone on Willis’ left side for a TD.

Then, on the next play, the final play of the period, Willis made a nice timing throw from the pocket to his tight end Briley Moore in stride after Moore had cleared the clutter from his route and broke open in the middle of the end zone.

Later in the practice, Willis got a two-minute period with the second team as Logan Woodside was on another field doing jog throughs with some of the newer players and rookies, sort of coaching them up in the process.

Injuries and days off

Several veteran players were out of action on Thursday, including Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry and Bud Dupree. Others out of practice included Cody Hollister and Elijah Molden, both of whom have missed multiple practices.

Offensive guard Jamarco Jones left practice early with what appeared to be a cramp in his right calf. Also, defensive lineman Larrell Murchison went in early from practice as well.

Drawing praise

Receiver Racey McMath has moved up in the pecking order at wide receiver in recent days, thanks in part to his two touchdown catches Tuedsay. McMath has earned praise from several veterans on the club, including Byard and Robert Woods, for his play in the early part of camp.

McMath is in a crowded battle at receiver for a spot somewhere behind Woods, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Treylon Burks, but has shown an improvement in his route-running and in catching the football over what he did as a rookie.