Posted: 8:00 a.m. Thursday, July 25, 2013
By Chris Pendley
[SCENE: Neyland Stadium. The band is forming the Power T. A podium in orange and white bunting is set up on the other side of the field, at the 40 yard line.]
All rise for the best guy to put on a Tennessee uniform in the 21st century. [Eric Berry enters through the Power T.]
You may be seated.
You may also have your doors completely blown off by our honored guest, who ...well, we could introduce him, but let's throw it to the crowd. I see a couple of people still standing who aren't wearing orange. You may also be seated.
Ahem. Knowshon Moreno, please sit down.
Marquis Maze, while you're standing up, go ahead and raise up and do your best Petey Pablo impression.
Thanks, Marquis. You may be plastered to the turf.
Let us continue. We're here today because of a guy whose name won't be forgotten any time soon and whose dominance ranged from impressive to completely insane. We're here today to talk about Eric Berry, and testify to his greatness through the magic of short stories. (And - okay, let's be honest - to rewatch those hits over and over again. When I wrote this post I spent 10 minutes staring at that Maze gif.)
You know how some guys just kind of fall on picks and don't even bother with return yardage? Yeah, Berry would set up return blocking, and if you weren't fast enough, you just get knocked out of the way, which was hilarious and great for us and probably the only downside of being Wes Brown in that South Carolina game, who got bowled over by Berry because he wasn't fast enough. (And yes, that was a fumble return, not a pick. Do I care? No, because a weird byproduct of Fat Guy Touchdowns are Fat Guys Getting Knocked Down By Fast Guys on Returns.)
Berry's freshman year was spent scaring the tar out of everyone (including Brown in that game) and doing things that look like wrecking shop, including getting at least 60 yards in turnover return yardage in three separate games (Florida, in the Tebow Tebow Tebow Berry Berry Berry game), South Carolina (Wes Brown Trucked), and Arkansas (The Razorback Running Game? game).
You know how you can watch a guy play in college and immediately recognize he's a man amongst boys? Certain players have that level of dominance, the kind of field command that just screams next level.
That was Eric Berry's sophomore season. You know, the year he was named team captain (again, sophomore), picked off seven passes for 265 yards and 2 TDs, set the career INT return yardage record for SEC play, finished 1st-team All-American and ended up 14 yards short of the NCAA career interception return yardage totals? Yeah, that one. (Of course, that wasn't his freshman year, where he - hey, guess what - set the freshman INT return yardage record for Tennessee by a cool 43 yards and was 1st--team Freshman All-American. Ho hum.)
Unfortunately for the rest of us, opponents realized that it probably wasn't the best idea to put the ball within an area code of him. He was that EA middle linebacker of doom sprung to life those first couple seasons, but, well, you know, playing safety and with more mobility and danger than anyone not in orange would care to name. He made offensive coordinators throw their controller across the booth in frustration, and that was just the start.
(Side note: I convinced virtual Eric Berry to return for his senior season in a Dynasty mode on NCAA Football 2009. I felt really bad about it. Well, I felt really bad about it after I got done dancing around my apartment like I had won the lottery. I also broke the Tennessee rushing record with Lennon Creer, which means nothing in the context of this post but I was proud of that and now you know.)
Of course, we know he didn't get the overall INT return yardage record. In fairness, that was because Monte Kiffin - as in, Tampa 2, long-time NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin - recognized that Eric Berry was such a defensive mismatch he created a new position for him in the kind of role Ed Reed played on the Ravens during his peak.
If you weren't aware, Ed Reed basically played two positions - extra OLB / 8th man in the box and his usual safety role. He could do that because he both fast enough and strong enough to play both at the NFL level. He was also in his mid-20s by the time was good enough to do that. Eric Berry did that as a junior.
In other words, EB14 didn't get that yardage record because he was playing two positions simultaneously. And heck, he still almost did it anyway. He did, however, get another All-American nod, unanimous like 2008 and 2009. How good was he? He went 5th overall to the Chiefs, in a slot that most teams look at safeties and go HERE THERE BE DRAGONS because even the best safeties get taken mid-late 1st round. Y'know, unless they're complete game changers
Eric Berry's list of awards is also used as a reference if you want to know what awards safeties can win.
Hey, remember when there was a debate over who was better, Taylor Mays or Eric Berry?
Since 2007 or so - and I'm guessing earlier - RTT has run a Best Plays of [year] poll during the offseason. From 2007 to 2009, that was basically a Best Eric Berry Plays of [year] poll.
We are now accepting Eric Berry testimonials from the crowd. Please approach the podium and keep your head on a swivel, because Eric Berry could be anywhere and you, nor anyone else, can stop him.