You hear about players being "born" to play their sports, but current Kansas City Chiefs and former Tennessee Volunteers safety Eric Berry(notes) fits the profile better than most. His father James was a three-year starter for the Vols, and the team's 1981 defensive captain. From an early age, Berry took his dad's lesson to heart. At Creekside High in Fairburn, Ga., he led his team to a 37-5 record as a quarterback and safety, and that was just a warm-up for what he'd do at his father's alma mater.
Berry tore up the NCAA, winning the 2009 Thorpe Award and becoming the best safety in the collegiate ranks. Berry was drawing comparisons to Brian Dawkins(notes) and Ed Reed(notes) even before former NFL defensive genius Monte Kiffin became his defensive coordinator in time for the 2009 season. Off the field, Berry is just as driven — he was a member of the National Honor Society in high school, and interned with a local dentist last year to further his education. I got a chance to catch up with Berry after a recent Adidas photo shoot, and here's Part 1 of the interview.
Shutdown Corner: You just did a photo shoot for the adidas adiZero Scorch cleat — talk a bit about your relationship with adidas, and what do you like about the new shoe?
Eric Berry: I've been with adidas since I was a freshman in college — my school was sponsored by them, and I just really love their gear. They always come out with ... nothing too flashy or crazy, just like my personality; they just get the job done. I really like the way they take time out to do their products, and I was an All-American three times in that stuff, and I won the Thorpe Award. So, when I got to the league, I was like, ‘Shoot, why switch it up?' I just wanted to stay with them.
SC: In moving from Tennessee to the Chiefs, you're going from Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 to a New England-style 3-4. These kinds of switches affect linebackers and defensive linemen, but from a safety perspective, when are the differences in coverage concepts for you?
EB: I don't really think there's a difference on the back end — it's probably more up front because you have four linebackers and three defensive linemen, but you wouldn't have a different scheme, coverage-wise. In my freshman and sophomore years with (former defensive coordinator) John Chavis, it was a lot more like Romeo Crennel's defense, but we did that out of a 4-3. We ran pretty much the same coverages, so the stuff on the back end is pretty much the same..
SC: What was it like working with Monte Kiffin?
EB: I used to pay attention to detail, but I really learned how to pay attention to detail from coach Kiffin. There were just certain things he brought from the NFL to the college level; certain things to look for, and when certain teams were going to do this or that. He already knew what was going on, because he's faced some of the best offensive coordinators in the world. I just tried to pick his brain and learn any little thing I could.
SC: What's it now like working with Romeo Crennel and Emmitt Thomas — two guys with very strong reputations, and in Thomas' case, a Hall of Fame defender himself?
EB: That's been exciting — I've just been trying to use them as much as I can. I've been getting in my playbook and making sure that if I have questions, to be sure to ask them. And they've been really good out there, that if we have questions, they want us to ask them. So, that's always cool.
SC: You're the rare player who can play actual strong and free safety designations (as opposed to interchangeable safeties, whose primary attribute is coverage and everything else is secondary) with equal skill, but what position do you feel most comfortable playing?
EB: Football. I don't really have a preference, to be honest with you. I just love playing ball — whatever position that is, and wherever it's going to be. That's what I love to do.
Sign up for Fantasy Football '10 today! Auction drafts, live scoring and an iPhone app — all for free!