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Tennessee Volunteers safety Eric Berry likes idea of being a Tampa Bay Buccaneer

INDIANAPOLIS — Monte Kiffin had never seen or heard anything like it.

More than 100,000 fans at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., chanting, "Err-ic! Err-ic!"

It's not that screaming your lungs out for a football star at Tennessee is so unusual. But the serenade was for Eric Berry — a safety.

"He's special," said Kiffin, the longtime Bucs defensive coordinator who coached Berry last season as Vols defensive coordinator. "I'm not just saying this. He's the real deal. He's a football junkie and was watching tape right away.

"We had a rule when I was coaching (former Bucs safety) John Lynch. We called it the Lynch Rule when we brought him down in the box. I brought in the Berry Rule."

Berry, 21, has read all the mock drafts that have him going No. 3 overall to Tampa Bay. But when it comes to the draft, safety first is not the NFL's workplace motto.

In fact, when Berry hits the Internet browser, it's to record all the criticism he is taking from pro football analysts.

"The only thing I've done is gone on the Internet and found the negative stuff about me and used that as motivation," Berry said Friday while attending the combine.

"I've seen things like he lacks ball skills, which is really hard to believe. Return skills after an interception. Just the fact that people are saying a safety can't be taken that high. I've read that a whole lot. I'm just trying to break that mold and be different."

By making Berry a focal point of the Vols defense, Kiffin removed a lot of guesswork for the NFL. Berry never came off the field. When teams went to three receivers, Berry moved to the nickel slot the way Ronde Barber has done in the Bucs defense for years.

"I really liked the multiplicity of the defense," Berry said. "There was so much (Kiffin) let me do as far as coveragewise, blitzing, just being in the box, having a lot of fun like that. I guess you could say I was a handyman on defense.

"There were some times when the quarterback would start checking at the line, and we would be in a blitz. I'd look to the sideline and (Kiffin) would give me a little head nod or something, and that would be like the cue for me to check out of the play and check into a different coverage so the quarterback would be thrown off."

In three seasons at Tennessee, Berry recorded 14 interceptions with 494 return yards and three touchdowns. He has been compared favorably to All-Pro safeties Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.

"There's just certain things I like to pick out from their game and put into my own game and build the type of player I want to be," Berry said.

There were two reasons why Berry felt it was time to leave the Vols after his junior season. One was boredom. Opponents had decided to avoid his side of the field as if "I had a plague."

The other motivation was to make life easier for his family. His father, James Berry, was a captain on the Vols football team (his father's cousin is former Bucs linebacker Hugh Green). He worked two jobs, pulling 12-hour shifts with Owens Corning and as a painting contractor.

"So I really just wanted him to get a chance to sit down and relax," Berry said.

Berry escaped the drugs and death all around him while growing up in Fairburn, Ga., by staying involved in sports in Clarence Duncan Park. But that park has deteriorated from too many budget cuts, so Berry plans to restore it.

His twin brothers, Evan and Elliott, are great players in their own right. In fact, Evan, 13, made news on Rivals.com when he committed to Tennessee.

If players could sign letters of intent to the NFL, you get the feeling Berry would chose Tampa Bay.

"Definitely, going to Tampa, that's easy," he said. "I already know their playbook. I already know everything from the D-line to the linebackers to the corners. I know what they're supposed to do and where they're supposed to be at. But I really don't try to focus on any one team because you never know."

Kiffin, who followed his son, Lane Kiffin, to USC, believes Berry will make some team happy.

"People will love him if he's at Tampa or St. Louis," Kiffin said. "He'll be just like Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks or Mike Alstott. He'll be sitting there signing autographs for people all day."

Tennessee Volunteers safety Eric Berry likes idea of being a Tampa Bay Buccaneer 02/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 11:38pm]
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