How do countless hours of playing video games help Tennessee's football team?
It's all about chemistry.
So says safety Demetrice Morley, the junior who is part of the most dominant area in UT's spring practice: the secondary.
Morley and his new running mate didn't wait until offseason workouts or even spring practice to get to know each other. Morley and sophomore safety Eric Berry were practically inseparable in early January.
Perhaps the duo just happened to hit it off and became immediate friends just because they were so compatible. Perhaps.
More likely, Morley and Berry were so eager to be friends that there's no way a relationship wouldn't thrive. Both surmised that a strong bond off the field would equate to a productive bond on the field.
"They know they can be great together," defensive backs coach Larry Slade said. "Their chemistry is outstanding."
That's resulted in big plays this spring. In UT's two full scrimmages, Morley has nine tackles, an interception, a sack and a blocked field goal, while Berry has five tackles, a pass break-up and a blocked field goal.
That's not the only area where UT's defensive backs are in mid-season form. The group has given itself a nickname: The Goon Squad. And the jokes don't stop there.
"I call him James," Morley said of Eric "James" Berry. "Don't tell him I told you."
All joking aside, the two seem to be a perfect match despite different backgrounds. Berry, by all accounts, is the star student, on and off the field. Morley, on the other hand, had his fair share of issues before returning to UT in January following a season he missed due to academic shortcomings.
Now, Slade says the two are always helping each other, whether that's in school, in the film room or in practice.
"They are very supportive of each other," Slade said. "Without a doubt, they keep each other straight. They're doing a good job with that."
Slade isn't one to heap undue compliments on players, which makes it even more impressive when he readily admits that his newly formed safety duo is exceeding his early expectations.
Still, Slade's not content as questions still remain. Can Morley continue to make the right decisions off the field? Can Berry avoid a sophomore slump after a freshman All-America season in 2007?
"Demetrice is determined to do the right things socially," Slade said. "… A lot of people saw what Eric did last year. He's a lot better than he was last year because of the experience."
Slade isn't worried that Berry will slip. Hard work, Slade says, will prevent that. Morley has noticed the same work ethic, and some innate skills that Berry is already well known for.
"He's going to be a leader," Morley said of Berry. "He knows he's going to be a leader. Everyday he steps up, he takes practice like a game situation.
"When you're down, he's going to talk to you and cheer you up. It feels like he's been here forever."
Having started 10 games and played two seasons at UT, Morley has played beside several different safeties. Jason Allen and Jonathan Hefney are the two most noteworthy. Morley thinks Berry might have an athletic advantage on the others.
"That kid," Morley said, "he's all-everything."
Athletically, so is Morley. Both are widely considered two of UT's better athletes, which gives coaches the versatility they dream of.
"We can both play free and strong (safety)," Berry said. "We're getting to know each other on and off the field, that helps."
For example, Berry has confided his goals for the season to only one other person.
"I just told Demetrice," Berry said.
Both admit the relationship was a bit of a gamble, albeit a safe one. Just because the two became friends doesn't mean they would play well together. In retrospect, it seems like an absolute necessity.
"I know that helped," Morley said. "We know what to expect from each other. We know each others' moves. Sometimes we even catch each other saying the same thing at the same time. It's funny."
So if you see Morley and Berry playing "Halo" or "Call of Duty", don't automatically think they're just lounging. They're actually hard at work.
"It pays off a lot," Berry said. "We're together a lot so we know what each other are doing at different times of the day and on the field.