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Kevin Byard excited to join 'hungry' Bears defense

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Veteran safety Kevin Byard III decided to join the Bears in large part because he feels the team is ascending and boasts a talented defense.

“I see guys who want to be successful. I see guys having fun together, making plays. You want to be part of something like that.” New Bears safety Kevin Byard

The two-time All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler agreed to terms on a two-year contract last Sunday after spending his first eight NFL seasons with the Titans (2016-23) and Eagles (2023).

"I really like what coach Matt [Eberflus] is building here just as a team," Byard said Thursday during his introductory press conference at Halas Hall. "There's a lot of things to be excited about. This defense has a lot of great pieces here, for sure, especially in the secondary."

Byard watches a lot of tape and is already familiar with his new teammates. He named several of them, mentioning the individual strengths of fellow defensive backs Jaylon Johnson, Tyrique Stevenson, Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, as well as defensive end Montez Sweat. Byard and Sweat attended rival high schools in the Atlanta area three years apart.

"I see a hungry defense," Byard said. "I see guys who want to be successful. I see guys having fun together, making plays. You want to be part of something like that. That's what's exciting for me. Just having a lot of pieces already in place on this defense, I can just come in and do what I need to do to help this team and help this defense take it to the next level."

In Byard, the Bears are adding a ninth-year pro who has appeared in 130 games with 121 starts and has recorded 749 tackles, 28 interceptions, 66 pass breakups, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, 15 tackles-for-loss, 4.0 sacks and two defensive touchdowns. His 28 interceptions are tied for the fifth most among active NFL players and would rank fifth in Bears history behind Gary Fencik (38), Richie Petitbon (37), Charles Tillman (36) and Donnell Woolford (32).

Byard also brings incredible durability to Chicago; he's never missed a game or even a practice due to an injury during his NFL career. He told reporters that the only time he's missed practice has been for the births of his three children.

"I've been blessed," Byard said. "I take body maintenance and my career very seriously when it comes to off the field, recovery, nutrition, doing all those things … They say availability is your best ability. That's been one of my best abilities, for sure."

Byard was selected by the Titans in the third round of the 2016 draft out of Middle Tennessee, leaving as the school's all-time leader with 19 career interceptions.

While in Tennessee, the 5-11, 212-pounder was chosen first-team All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl in 2017 when he led the NFL with a career-high eight interceptions and again in 2021 when he picked off five passes.

Byard was traded to the Eagles last Oct. 23 in exchange for 2024 fifth- and sixth-round picks and safety Terrell Edmunds, the brother of Bears middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

Byard, who was released by Philadelphia March 1, expects a much smoother transition in joining the Bears during the offseason.

"This obviously is a way different and better situation than getting traded to Philly midyear," he said. "Getting shipped out midyear was definitely different. But this time around, getting an entire offseason with the guys, a whole entire training camp, really being able to bond and really getting to know your teammates a lot better is pretty cool. I'm just embracing it. It's new, but I always like to learn and grow as a person."

Byard isn't interested in proving that he hasn't lost a step at age 30 or that the Eagles made a mistake in releasing him. In fact, there's only one thing that motivates him.

"I don't really play for any other reason other than winning," Byard said. "I've been able to accomplish a lot of things: accolades, contracts and stuff like that. For me, it's just about winning and just being of service.

"I'm a big man of faith and I feel like God places you in certain places for a reason, so I'm here to find that out for sure and being of service to these guys. It's a younger group, so me being the elder statesman, [I intend to] come in and be a playmaker that I've been, but also try to mentor and help these guys as much as I can."

Byard believes that general manager Ryan Poles has put the Bears in position to win and is eager to begin working with his new teammates.

"I'm very confident," Byard said. "You can say free agency started early for these guys when they traded for Montez and paid him (last year) and got Jaylon [signed to an extension]. I'm very confident, and I think Ryan has a few tricks up his sleeve. But at the end of the day, what's on paper is on paper. We've got to go out there and put the work in, and that's what all 32 teams have. We're all starting at the same place. We've got to go out there and put the work in and bond and build this thing the right way."

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