The 2010 draft class was the first in which the safety position was so highly featured, but it probably won't be the last time. As the NFL becomes more and more a passing league, multi-talented defensive backs with the ability to cover like nickel corners and tackle like box safeties will grab the coin and a seat at the main table of positional importance.
When the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Tennessee safety Eric Berry with the fifth overall pick, it showed just how important the position had become. Berry, a multi-dimensional demon in college, took those skills to the NFL and really made an impact as he developed through his rookie campaign. He won the Mack Lee Hill trophy as the most talented and inspirational rookie by a vote of his veteran teammates, went to the Pro Bowl, and took the Defensive Player of the Month award for December/January as the Chiefs clinched the AFC West. He finished with 126 tackles and four interceptions, taking his place as one of the best young defenders in the game.
In this exclusive interview, Berry talked about a wide range of things, starting with the adidas adiZero 5-Star cleat, which he's very happy with. Adidas is increasing its presence by signing five of the key 2011 draft prospects to deals (defensive back Prince Amukamara of Nebraska, running back DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma, wide receiver Titus Young of Boise State, tight end Kyle Rudolph of Notre Dame and wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan of Troy), and Berry wanted people to know that the raves about the show were legit. Then, we got down to the subject of football. Part 1 of the interview can be found here; the conclusion is below.
Shutdown Corner: One advantage you have is that you're up top with a cornerback in Brandon Flowers, who can do so many things — play off, play press, redirect receivers where he wants them to go. It's my belief that he's one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the league. What is it like working with him?
Eric Berry: That's my opinion, too. I think that Brandon doesn't get a lot of the credit he deserves throughout the league. To me, he's one of the best lockdown corners. There have been times when I watch him and say, "Wow — he really locked that guy down for the whole game." There's been games where we've asked him to be one-on-one for a whole game — Cover-0 and things like that.
We started our friendship before I got drafted, because I was training in Florida, down in his hometown. He was talking to me about stuff and actually helping me out on the drills for the scouting combine. That's why it's so crazy that we wound up on the same team. So, he was helping me out before and after the combine. I think that was pretty cool.
SC: You and Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks (who was taken 14th overall) will be linked for a long time as the two guys in a draft class where safeties were maybe more valued than ever before — do you guys talk to each other? What's your assessment of his game, since the Chiefs and Seahawks faced off last season?
EB: We talk not just because we were the top safeties in the draft, but we were talking before that. We would talk about football, and random stuff that was going on. I have nothing but respect for his game — the way he plays in coverage, making tackles, breaking up passes, and he's always going to do it full speed. But the thing I realy admire about him the most is that he plays a lot of special teams snaps. It's kind of hard for people to understand the value of playing special teams snaps until you've done it. You're dead tired from playing a series, or though a whole game, but you have to go down on a punt or kick return and make a tackle. To see him do that for the Seahawks team says a lot about him, and he just loves the game. And anyone who has a true love and passion for the game, I have nothing but respect for them.
SC: The Chiefs enjoyed a real breakout season in 2010, where a lot of things came together after some down years. What do you think was the primary reason or reasons for that?
EB: I think a lot of the guys just bought into what coach (Todd) Haley said. What he wanted us to do as a team. He told us not to worry about anything that was going on in the media, or what people were saying about us, because a lot of people were talking pretty badly about us before the season. But what we did was to rally together as a team, and like I said, we followed our veterans. They weren't saying that they were the veterans and we didn't have any input. They pretty much showed us the ropes as far as being rookies and younger guys — they just said, 'Get on the train and let's go.' And that's what we did.
SC: Obviously, you didn't see the team going out in that rout against the Ravens in the wild-card round of the playoffs, but you have a great game — 10 tackles and four passes defensed. What do you think you and your team learned about yourselves that will help you the next time?
EB: I think the biggest thing we probably learned was that we don't have to do anything great in the playoffs, we just have to come together and play as a team. Nobody has to do anything spectacular, or off the wall, you just have to make the plays when they come to you. So, that's probably the biggest thing that I learned from it.
SC: What has it been like working with defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas?
EB: It's been really fun working with him. I've learned a lot from him, obviously with him being a Hall-of-Famer and being around football so long. But at the same time, he's the kind of guy you can approach and ask about anything. Those are the types of coaches I like, as opposed to the ones who just say, 'Oh, here's what you have to do because I said so,' it's more, 'This is what you need to do and this is why.' He tells you the reason you're doing it and he doesn't leave you in the dark. I don't really respond to that other type of coaching too well, but Coach Thomas has helped me out, and he's helped us all out. We're a young secondary, and what we needed was someone with a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge.
SC: What would you like to tell the players coming into the league in this draft about the NFL experience? What's the one thing every rookie should know before he even starts?
EB: Don't get frustrated early. A lot of guys coming into the league, they're used to doing well — doing good all their lives. So, when they come into the NFL, there are going to be some rough times where you get beaten on a pass or you miss a tackle. Don't beat yourself up; learn from that mistake and keep moving forward. At the same time, you just want to make sure that you're making progress every day and every week. From week to week, you want to make sure you're not getting beaten and messing up on the same things, you just want to keep getting better and better. It's a gradual pace, and you want to keep making that incline upward. That's the biggest thing you want to go into the league thinking.
Also, go in with an open mind, and listen to different points of view so that you can learn. Always be willing to learn, because there are things you can learn from everyone. Don't shut out anyone just because they're not a starter, or just because they haven't played in a while. A lot of the older guys, the guys who have been around football, can help you out as well.