September 12, 2011
It has not been a very good season so far for the Kansas City Chiefs. The defending AFC West champs looked sluggish in the preseason (especially on offense), and they've already lost productive tight end Tony Moeaki(notes) for the season. What the Chiefs could not possibly afford if they hoped to defend their division title was the loss of their young defensive leader, Eric Berry(notes), for any length of time.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs will now have to deal with that reality. Because Berry, who was injured early in Kansas City's 41-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills, is now out for the season with a torn ACL. The injury was first reported by Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network.
The loss of Berry is a devastating blow to the Chiefs. Berry was the fifth overall player selected in the 2010 draft, and he beat the odds by looking even better in the pros than he did at Tennessee when he was perhaps the best defensive back in the nation. He was the only Chiefs player to be on the field for every defensive play in 2010, and about half of Kansas City's special teams plays, Berry admitted toward the end of the season that he was "just about through."
That didn't stop him from becoming a real force in slot and seam coverage, where he picked up 92 tackles, four interceptions and five passes defensed. He was named to the Pro Bowl in his rookie campaign. Had Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh(notes) not enjoyed one of the all-time first seasons, Berry would have been in line for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
The real shame of the season-ending injury is that Berry was looking forward to a season of improvement, when some of the rookie bumps had gone away.
"The NFL was just an adjustment for me," Berry told me last March. "The speed of the game, the size of the tight ends — I never really covered tight ends in college and that was more of a difference. I was covering wide receivers in college, so that was an adjustment. And a lot of the guys who play tight end [in the NFL], they play a lot of basketball — they'll get to the top of their routes and use basketball post moves on me that I wasn't used to. So, that was probably the biggest adjustment.
"I would say that every game was a learning experience for me, especially early on in the season, going up against guys like Antonio Gates(notes), Dallas Clark(notes) and Todd Heap(notes). You're going to have some learning experiences with those guys — they're Pro Bowl players. I'm just glad I had the opportunity to be out there, learning from them. This offseason, I've been watching the film to see things I could improve on, so that next season, I won't be so surprised, I guess you could say, at what might happen."
The Chiefs certainly felt his absence in the loss to the Bills. Though he was on the field for the first of two touchdown passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) to tight end Scott Chandler(notes), that was a quick comeback route, and Berry was all over Chandler before he hit the end zone. On the second score to Chandler, Berry was off the field, and Chandler was undefended on his way to the end zone.
The Chiefs had better figure out their safety situation in a big hurry. One of the players set to replace Berry at the free safety position is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers washout Sabby Piscitelli(notes), who raised quite a stink when the Bucs demoted him — of course, it wasn't anything compared to the stink he generally raised on the field. Veteran Jon McGraw(notes) is also on the depth chart.
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