Berry joins crowded secondary

UT freshman filling in for injured corner Johnson

Opportunity is knocking loudly on Eric Berry’s door.

Tennessee’s highly touted freshman cornerback from Fairburn, Ga., has taken over the first-team right cornerback spot as Marsalous Johnson recovers from a bruised shoulder he suffered in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“Hopefully, it’ll get better real soon and I can go back out and compete,” Johnson said Tuesday.

Defensive backs coach Larry Slade said Berry, Johnson and senior Antonio Gaines are locked in a three-way battle for playing time.

“You’ve got three corners competing for those two jobs,” Slade said. “Right now, I’ve got three starters.”

And before fans write off Johnson, who is 5-foot-9, for Berry, Slade emphasized, “That Marsalous is playing lights out! Lights out!”

Slade said junior college transfer DeAngelo Willingham and senior Art Evans also should benefit from Johnson’s brief absence.

Berry, however, has been the talk of the team since practice began two weeks ago. He intercepted a pass in Saturday’s scrimmage while working with the second team. In the final quarter, Berry replaced Johnson after Johnson bruised his shoulder.

Hurt or not, Johnson said he welcomes the competition.

“It lets me know I have someone pushing me,” the former Smyrna High School star said. “Eric and all those guys, I love having the competition. Competition is going to make me a better player and make them a better player.

“I’m a team player. If it’s going to make the team better, I want all the competition we can have.”

Berry wasn’t available for comment per UT’s media policy limiting freshman interviews.

If he maintains the first-team spot, he’ll face a challenge similar to what Jonathan Hefney endured in 2004, when Hefney — then a freshman cornerback — was inserted into the starting lineup to replace Jason Allen, who was moved from cornerback to safety.

“He’s in the same situation I was in when I first got here,” Hefney said. “I just told him he has to step up and make plays. I’m going to help him as much as possible. When Marsalous comes back, put them in together and see who comes out on top.”

Hefney, who has started 36 consecutive games since being inserted into the lineup in 2004, is one of many Vols who have been impressed with Berry.

“He came in ready, I think,” Hefney said. “I don’t know what they taught him in high school, but he came in ready to play. He came out wanting to know everything and learned everything.”

On the field, Hefney said Berry reminds him of another talented defensive back, starting strong safety Demetrice Morley, who was dismissed by the university for academic shortcomings in January.

“They both like to make plays,” Hefney said. “They like to hit. I see ’em hitting everybody. I see Eric tackling everybody he can.”

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Comments » 21

agentorange writes:

the headline writer should be shot. that's not even coming close to journalism. i don't want to read the national inquirer's sports page.

CoverOrange writes:

Remember that the KNS writers only know what UT staffers tell them since media is not allowed at practices. Really though, have to agree there is not any reason to post this article without more info that will probably come out in post-practice news conference.

UTFAN1993 writes:

MAYBE JUST TRYING TO JUSTIFY HIS PAYCHECK B4 FRIDAY

Colliervol writes:

I could say something about that toy Uzi having too much kick but I'll refrain.

hueypilot writes:

Shot? That seems a little severe.

BOASoldier writes:

much better ... man I was afraid for someone's life for a bit there ... good story...

BOASoldier writes:

ESPN two of three of the analysts say we lose to Cal ... same story is last year ... they aren't expecting a thing.

vol4jesus writes:

Lou had us winning and mark may had Cal. Although their conversation made it look like the reverse on who they winner would be.

Colliervol writes:

Say it ain's so. ESPN analysts picking against Tennessee. Who'd a thunk it?

objk1#231846 writes:

I just wish Fulmer would come out and not use age or assignment concerns regarding young players. We were dominant when our young guys were allowed to compete, I hate to say it but Majors never had this talent and he won eight games a year. Florida always has a fresh or soph burning us for two or three fist downs a year. Quit making the young guys sit four half the year. Turn the kids loose. If Riggs had 150 carries as a freshman I believe he is Jamal Lewis with less speed but more leverage. Instead he sat for two years b/c the staff blamed blocking issues as an excuse for pt and ruined the kid mentally. These kids come after dominating in high school and then by not getting on the field mentally they have doubt for the first time. Like Riggs it took three years to recover and then he breaks his leg. Cobb and Webb played as freshman(one redshirt the other true) and talent and production wise they were the best backs I have seen wearing the orange(my opinion). Come out now and say Berry is our starter. If a upperclassman takes offense, so what, work hader to earn back your spot. Anyway sorry about the rant. I have ORANGE FEVER. Section V Row 5 seats 4-10 or somewhere close. I hope Berkley is covered in orange. GOVOLS

agentorange writes:

for the record, the story i originally posted on was nothing like what Hooker wrote and the headline was different.

FatherVol writes:

Vol4Jesus, I watched that clip twice and I'd swear that Holtz was emphatic about Cal being his chice while Mark picked the Vols. Am I not hearing (or seeing) something?

waterskier3#226480 writes:

what kills me is that when we were paying we had much more information or more articles about football. is it just me or is KNS not really covering the vols football practices........ I mean we have 18 days til the opener and we're writing about this phooey.. how does the overall team look? who seems to be stepping up? what's the overall talent level...? I'm in texas and need to some info to counter this big 12 phooey :)

orangebloodgmc writes:

I find a bit of supplementary info at tennessean.com. Often they take a negative tone, but they do add tidbits of info, like, Maples just moved from db to wr (haven't seen yet that at this site) and some insights into how Fisher thinks, in an article all about him.

BOASoldier writes:

I dislike the media having their nose into anything .. all they do is take what they want to report and spin it in a way that will make for a good story ... and usually that is bad. I think it is good to have the media out of the players faces however I do think that the media sometimes keeps the coaches a bit more honest ... especially with the freshman situation approaching ... if the media sees firsthand that a player is doing well and he is still kept from a game it allows the fans to question why ... so I dont know which does more harm ... having them there or not (the media)

BuckFama writes:

Some D1 programs open practice to the press, some do not. As to "most", who cares? Look around the SEC and there are several coaches who restrict press access. As long as Fulmer is at the helm he can close practice if he wishes. I probably wouldn't open it to this particular paper's writers because they SEEM to have some sort of bug up their collective a@@ when it comes to the football program. Nonetheless, neither the fans nor the KNS has a say. I believe that is what bugs some fans and all of the writers ... the fact that when it boils down to it, they really aren't that connected to the program.

I would ask a recent poster why he or she believes that if the information we are getting is from the coaching staff we can't believe it. Are the coaches not to be believed? Where have they been proven to have purposely misled the fans?

And the taxpayers might have a say as to how the football program is run IF the program was run with taxpayer dollars. To my understanding, the football program - Coach Fulmer's football program - pays for itself and most of the other athletics budget. Pearl's success has made the b-ball program more solvent, and Pat's team makes money, but let's not forget that football drives the bus here at UT and at most other major universities. The athletic department often actually gives money to the university, not vice-versa. Tax dollars pay neither the expenses of the program itself NOR the coaches' salaries. So "NO" - the taxpayers don't come into play here.

If you want to see things for yourself, and if you have the 'nads, call Coach Fulmer, tell him you think he and his staff are lying to everyone, and demand access to practices. See where it gets you. Otherwise, quit complaining.

orangebloodgmc writes:

You guys are refreshingly plain-spoken; I wish we could all get together and have a beer some day.

BOASoldier writes:

yeah when riggs was in highschool he posed for the local paper with his helmet in one hand and a superman cape swaying behind him... lookin over chattanooga from atop lookout mountain ... when I heard he was headed to UT i knew it would be a bad fit.

invisiblekid writes:

Who is this jackass Holtz you guys keep talking about? Seriously, I don't think he has picked UT in a game since he became an "analyst".

DadwasaVol writes:

sjt18, I agree. And fine if Fulmer wants practices secret. It would be fine if, for example, we never heard a word about no-huddle then all of a sudden Tennessee storms out in a no-huddle offense the first series against Cal catching all of us, and Cal defenders, by surprise. In fact, how do we know that Cut will actually employ the no-huddle anytime this season? Could this be a decoy designed to make SEC defenses stay late after practice preparing for it? If Fulmer wants to keep secrets more power to him.

orangebloodgmc writes:

I hope we DO no-huddle offense, and DON'T 3-4 defense.

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