Believe it or not, Berry has a new trick up his sleeve

Monday, July 27, 2009 at 11:06pm

Eric Berry isn’t worth a dime to the University of Tennessee’s defense. No, his value is best measured in the nickel.

First-year coach Lane Kiffin revealed last week at SEC football media days that he and his staff intend to use the All-American safety as a slot cornerback (a.k.a. nickel back) as well this fall. It is a move that not only should strengthen the Volunteers’ defense, it figures to enhance the draft stock of the junior who already projects as a top 10 pick in next year’s draft.

“To have Eric, a guy that could come down and play nickel as well as be a safety, I think NFL teams are going to fall in love with him,” Kiffin said. “…There aren't very many guys like that. There aren't very many guys in the NFL like that.”

Berry already has had a singular college career.

He enters 2009 as the single-season and career interception return yards record holder for both UT and the SEC. He needs just 15 more to break the NCAA career record set by Florida State’s Terrell Buckley from 1989-91.

Now he has the opportunity to set himself apart if he shows he can be just as effective at a second position and in a scheme taken right out of the NFL. UT’s new defensive coordinator is Monte Kiffin, who spent the last 26 years as an NFL assistant.

“I know a lot of the defense right now,” Berry said. “It's just kind of tough to get the terminology, the different names of the defenses, getting those things down. … So that's the tough part about it.”

Throughout most the last two years, he has made it look easy.

The psychology major out of Fairburn, Ga, has started every game of his college career and has earned freshman All-America (2007) and unanimous All-America (2008) honors. He was one of seven players who tied for the national lead with seven interceptions last fall but was the only one of that group who picked off passes in seven different games.

He’s so good that the UT athletics department believes he can pull off the nearly impossible feat of winning the Heisman Trophy and has begun a public relations campaign on his behalf.

Only one player whose primary role was on defense (Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997) ever has won the award.

“That would be cool, being put in the same category as Charles Woodson,” Berry said. “But I'd rather be in the same category as USC and Florida with the national championship, the SEC championship. That's a bigger accomplishment in my eyes. That's what we're trying to get done.”

For the first-year coaching staff, that means starting with Berry.

“We don't really have a depth chart,” Kiffin said. “Eric Berry is a starter — outside of that, we have 21 jobs open.”

Actually, Berry already has two jobs and that — Kiffin believes — makes him one of a kind.


4 Comments on this post:

By: JeffF on 7/28/09 at 8:38

Good year to have ESPN hold SEC rights. They and ABC held Big 10 rights the year they hyped Woodson to potential TV viewers. Now with the right environment they can return the favor.

Of course it is written in the stars somewhere that neither Tennessee or Alabama will ever have a Heisman winner. If Majors could not win over a Hornung (on a losing Notre Dame team) and Manning could not beat an overhyped defensive player who didn't even finish as the best palyer at his position that year then the chances are slim that Beryr will get the love.

By: wolfy on 7/28/09 at 8:47

I agree JeffF......Alabama and Tennessee have a combined 14 National Championships and NO Heisman Trophy winner's? I'm sure the voters aren't biased...OR are they? It's the most overrated award in college football.

By: knilob on 7/28/09 at 9:05

Berry was already a legend before he even stepped on the field for UT. As for the Heisman Trophy race, I guess it would kind of make up for Peyton getting robbed in 97.

By: jps13pat on 7/28/09 at 4:12

Eric Berry runs like a safety and hits like a linebacker. He figures to be a top 10 pick? Try top 5. With all of those quarterbacks still around it will be difficult for him to pull off a heisman, but I'll be pulling for him (and I think he deserves it too!).

Eric Berry for heisman baby!!