June 28, 2010
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 lessons to heart. At Creekside High in Fairburn, Georgia, 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 2 of the interview.
Shutdown Corner: You're so tight when it comes to reading offenses and so disciplined when going downhill fast to make tackles — I know you just work on technique all the time, but at what point do things move so fast in the game, that you have to let your instincts take over?
Eric Berry: I don't think [the thinking] ever shuts off, to be honest with you. The instincts and reaction and having to move — that's what football is. You have to learn how to deal with different adjustments, and know how to react to different types of plays. And do it on the fly. Of course, the technique is going to help you throughout the game, but the instincts sometimes take over. I think that where technique comes in handy is when you start to get fatigued. That's when it really comes in. You try to use it all the time, but sometimes, instincts do take over.
SC: You are obviously a film junkie and you had an advantage working with coach Kiffin for that one year, but what's the biggest difference in moving from college to the pro game? Is there more to handle from a schematic perspective?
EB: My playbook's about the same size as it was with both defensive coordinators in college. I think that's helped me out — coach Kiffin's playbook was pretty big, and coach Chavis' playbook was really big. Right now, it's a matter of me learning the lingo; the different terminology. But just going in, it's about what I did in college. If you want to really learn your playbook, you just do it. I mean, we don't have class now or other things to do, so we just focus on our playbooks.
SC: Having a safety taken as high in the draft as you were is unusual, and Earl Thomas(notes) also went early in the first round to the Seahawks. Do you think that safeties are gaining in importance with the NFL's increase in passing, and that some guys who might have played corner in previous years might make that switch? Do you think that applies to you?
EB: Probably so — I've heard coach [Chiefs defensive backs coach Emmitt] Thomas say that a little bit. I probably would have been a cornerback in the old days. But with me and Earl getting picked so high — I think that does have a little bit to do with the passing, but more to do with players like Darren Sharper(notes) and Ed Reed, and those guys who came before us. Showing that if you had a good safety on your team, it could change the outcome of a game. I really do believe that the credit for our success should go to those guys — the veterans who really paved the way for us.
SC: And you probably don't mind all of those Ed Reed comparisons you get.
EB: [Laughs] No, not at all.
SC: Getting back to the intelligence aspect of your game — you were grabbing the Chiefs' defense quickly enough to draw remarks from teammates, and you were also a member of the National Honor Society. Book smarts and football smarts don't always line up, but in your case, they certainly do. What do you think are the common denominators of that kind of success?
EB: I really think that self-motivation has a lot to do with it. If you want to do it — I understand that a lot of people might not be able to, but I really think that you should. You should have that motivation for yourself, just because if you want to reach your full potential ... that's me. I want to see how far I can go and how good I can be, whether it's in the classroom or on the football field. I've always challenged myself like that, and that's what my dad always said: "If you're going to do something, don't do it halfway. Finish it, and do it to the best of your ability." So, that's how I try and do things.
SC: Your father was a team captain for the Vols — what did he teach you about football, and what kind of advantage did that give you from an on-field perspective?
EB: We're very close. We have a unique relationship, and we talk about anything. He's helped me especially in the mental aspects of the game, and how I should approach it. He played in a different era, a different time where his mentality was hard-nosed and not caring about anything, just going full speed all the time. I think he put that in me, and with me looking up to him, that's how I wanted to play the game.
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