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. Here's part 1, the conclusion will be up shortly.
Shutdown Corner: I wanted to start out by asking you about the adiZero 5-Star cleat — adidas has signed several of the bigger names in this draft class after working with you and C.J. Spiller and other players last year as well. I wanted to get a sense from you as to how the new cleat affects, or helps, your game.
Eric Berry: I actually had a chance to wear it last year, during the last part of the season — testing it out at practice. And the way it hugs your feet when you put it on, it's not slipping here and there. At the same time, it kind of feels like a sock. You know you're wearing shoes, but at the same time, there's no added resistance or added weight to the lower part of your body. So, me personally, I like the way the shoe feels, You obviously feel faster when you're wearing something lighter, and being fast is a mindset — if you think you're faster, you're pretty much going to be.
SC: So, how did that affect you on the field, in drills, going up against receivers, things like that?
EB: In drills … like I said, it's a mindset. If you feel faster, you're going to play with more confidence. Going up against wide receivers and tight ends, I felt like I could take more chances because I felt faster — I was jumping a lot of routes and playing with more confidence. I started to see myself making more plays from taking chances, and when you have that confidence, you can go ahead and take the gamble on a play.
SC: Going back to your rookie season, how did it feel to win the Mack Lee Hill trophy?
EB: That was definitely a great honor; I thanked my teammates for voting for me. I felt that I made an impact last year, and that's what I wanted to do — come in and help the team. I was very proud of that. The season was a good experience as a whole; just going out there and seeing how well we jelled together. A lot of people on the team were saying that they hadn't seen people on a team this close in a long time. And a lot of the veterans … there wasn't any of that hazing stuff that you hear about. When we came in, the veteran just took us under their wings and just showed us the ropes. I think a lot of the credit goes to them for helping me go through the rookie season the way I did.
SC: You came into the NFL and really had an out of the box impact — I know you did a lot of different things at Tennessee, and your versatility was one of your main selling points in the draft, but did the Chiefs use you differently in any way? Was there anything you had to adapt to or get used to?
EB: Really, the NFL was just an adjustment for me. 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.
As far as the Chiefs having me do something different, I'd say no — they just tried to put me in positions where I could make plays and help the team out. That was the biggest thing they did.
SC: On the other hand, most rookies come in and there's an adjustment period. Did you experience that, where it took a while to get up to speed?
EB: 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, Dallas Clark, and Todd Heap. 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.