Can Berry intercept history?

Berry's new role has diminished returns

One interception. One month of the regular season remaining.

Practically no one within or surrounding Tennessee's football program thought All-America safety Eric Berry would enter November with only one pick and still be searching for a suddenly elusive NCAA record.

After all, Berry entered the season just 15 yards shy of breaking former Florida State defensive back Terrell Buckley's NCAA record for interception return yardage of 501 yards.

Based on previous experience, most thought that miniscule amount of yardage would be surpassed in the first quarter of the season opener against Western Kentucky. Eight games into the season, Berry's quest continues.

A couple of factors have contributed to Berry's falloff in interceptions after he reeled in 12 in his first two seasons. His one pick this season was a diving catch against Florida that netted no return yardage.

First, Berry's role has changed significantly. With former coach Phillip Fulmer at the helm, Berry was more often lined up downfield and often roamed like a free safety. Now, he is much more like a strong safety and, at times, a linebacker.

Berry is ranked 11th in the SEC with 7.1 tackles per game. Every player ahead of him on the top tackler list is a linebacker. Berry looks like a linebacker at times, as he often lines up inside the tackle box.

"Has that made Eric's interceptions numbers suffer a little bit? Yeah, maybe it has," UT coach Lane Kiffin said. "Everybody wants to see one interception a game. Well, one interception a game, maybe 40 yards downfield, isn't nearly as valuable as all the tackles Eric is making around the line. There's a reason for having him down (close to the line of scrimmage) so much."

Berry is still respected at UT and beyond. This week he was named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's best college defensive back, and the Chuck Bednarik Award, presented to the outstanding national defensive player of the year.

And while Berry's interception stat line may be down, the rest of his stats are up. He is second on the team with 57 tackles and leads in special teams stops with seven. He leads UT in passes defended with seven and has five tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

With that, UT's defense has continued to improve throughout the season, ranking 13th in total yardage and 25th in rush defense.

Yet it's more than UT's coaches who have limited Berry's interception opportunities. Trumpeted as a Heisman Trophy candidate by UT coming into the season, every opponent knew who was wearing the No. 14 jersey.

"Totally different ends of the spectrum," Berry said when asked of the opportunities he's had in 2009 season compared to previous seasons. "Last year a lot of people were still throwing at me. My freshman year, of course, I was a freshman. It's totally changed."

Freshman Janzen Jackson, who plays more of a traditional, deep safety role for the Vols, has seen offenses shy away from Berry.

"A lot of quarterbacks don't want to be the record-setting quarterback," Jackson said. "They throw away from him. They run away from him because they don't want him around the ball because he's a playmaker."

There was almost an interception against Georgia that was actually a fumble. UT and its fans were so ready to see the record fall that a congratulatory message was mistakenly aired on the big screen as the crowd roared.

There have been a couple of other instances when Berry second-guessed himself for not being more aggressive, perhaps a bit out of rhythm in the secondary given his new role.

There might be more opportunities coming before the season - and likely Berry's college career - is complete. If Berry forgoes his senior season to enter the NFL draft as most expect, the Georgia native has four or five more games to etch his name into the history books.

Saturday's opponent, Memphis, ranks 104th in the NCAA's Bowl Subdivision with 12 interceptions thrown.

UT's remaining opponents aren't much better. Ole Miss ranks 114th with 13 interceptions thrown. Vanderbilt ranks 45th with seven. Kentucky ranks 67th with nine. There will be an undetermined opponent forthcoming in a bowl game if UT is eligible.

Berry has never been one to complain, but did admit this week that the seemingly never-ending quest for the record can be frustrating.

"It can be if you let it get to you; but, as long as we're doing good as a team, I'm perfectly fine with it," he said.

Perhaps other Vols can help Berry. If UT's other defenders make plays in the secondary, could more offenses be forced to throw Berry's way?

"That's whatever a team has in their game plan," Berry said. "All I can do is control what I can control. And I can control running to the ball. I can control hustling to the ball and making the plays that do come my way."

Berry and his teammates might not admit it, but they know their leader's chances are dwindling along with the season schedule. Some seem almost in denial that Berry might not achieve what was had been considered a given.

"I don't want to imagine that," Jackson said. "I'm sure that's probably on his mind but I'm sure the first thing on his mind is winning and winning out. Good things happen to good people."

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Comments » 30

HallowedHill writes:

It will happen. GO VOLS!!

CRFVols writes:

I'll be praying for ya EB! We wanna see it happen!

CRFVols writes:

in response to Witch_Doctor:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wait WD.....you watch Oprah?

I'm not mad....just disappointed...lol

coachbenchpressfakebakes writes:

With the 1st pick in the 2010 NFL draft the Tennessee Titans select Eric Berry defensive back University of Tennessee.

SmokeyHound writes:

if dyer commits to auburn - whats gonna happen to seastrunk?

SmokeyHound writes:

THE TITANS WEAK POINT IS THEIR SECONDARY AND MOST OF ALL THEIR DEFENSE~WITH THEM LIKELY GETTING THE FIRST PICK THEY WILL OBVIOUSLY NEED A DEFENSIVE PLAYER CONSIDERING THE FACT THAT THEIR OFFFENSE IS STARTING TO CLICK BUT THEIR PASSING DEFENSE IS THEIR LAST IN THE NFL. WITH BERRY, THEY WOULD SIGNIFICANTLY MOVE UP. NDAMUKONG WOULD NOT BE A GOOD IMPROVEMENT, BECAUSE THEIR D-LINE ISNT THAT BAD. - I SAY ERIC BERRY, NO MATTER WHAT TEAM, SHOULD GO FIRST ROUND, FIRST PICK IN THE DRAFT.

all of u have the permission to copy paste this to send it to the titans or chris low or somebody of importance that would consider bringing berry to the top.....

BERRY FOR THORPE, D PLAYER OF THE YEAR, AND FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICK!!! GO ERIC BERRY!

CRFVols writes:

in response to coachbenchpressfakebakes:

With the 1st pick in the 2010 NFL draft the Tennessee Titans select Eric Berry defensive back University of Tennessee.

That would be awesome....for the Titans....not soo much for us. I'd like to see him stay....but with the rookie cap coming up I know tons of juniors are gonna bounce.

Dang Titans need a QB as bad as we do. They better be looking at that. I don't trust VY.

ArealVolFan writes:

in response to SmokeyHound:

THE TITANS WEAK POINT IS THEIR SECONDARY AND MOST OF ALL THEIR DEFENSE~WITH THEM LIKELY GETTING THE FIRST PICK THEY WILL OBVIOUSLY NEED A DEFENSIVE PLAYER CONSIDERING THE FACT THAT THEIR OFFFENSE IS STARTING TO CLICK BUT THEIR PASSING DEFENSE IS THEIR LAST IN THE NFL. WITH BERRY, THEY WOULD SIGNIFICANTLY MOVE UP. NDAMUKONG WOULD NOT BE A GOOD IMPROVEMENT, BECAUSE THEIR D-LINE ISNT THAT BAD. - I SAY ERIC BERRY, NO MATTER WHAT TEAM, SHOULD GO FIRST ROUND, FIRST PICK IN THE DRAFT.

all of u have the permission to copy paste this to send it to the titans or chris low or somebody of importance that would consider bringing berry to the top.....

BERRY FOR THORPE, D PLAYER OF THE YEAR, AND FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICK!!! GO ERIC BERRY!

Seriously dude, you need to stop. Berry is going to be a first rounder without your annoying "help" You just make UT fans look ridiculous. Sending your idiotic comments to Chris Low or the Titans is not going to help Berry out in any way. Besides if you knew anything about football you would realize that the Titans secondary is bad only because of injuries. They have no need for Berry. Please stop these ridiculous comments.

CoverOrange writes:

With Janzen Jackson out would it not be probable that Eric shifts back to FS? Memphis isn't likely to make too much headway running the ball. Then again, they won't make too much head way throwing it either.

tulelakevol writes:

I am so proud of Eric Berry, what an outstanding young man. My 7 year old son and I watch film on Berry, and he is learning from a great teacher. My kid wants to hit like him, heck, I want to hit like him, but too old : ) I hope he gets the record. Berry is already a household name, and will be forever.

cdonsbach writes:

in response to SmokeyHound:

THE TITANS WEAK POINT IS THEIR SECONDARY AND MOST OF ALL THEIR DEFENSE~WITH THEM LIKELY GETTING THE FIRST PICK THEY WILL OBVIOUSLY NEED A DEFENSIVE PLAYER CONSIDERING THE FACT THAT THEIR OFFFENSE IS STARTING TO CLICK BUT THEIR PASSING DEFENSE IS THEIR LAST IN THE NFL. WITH BERRY, THEY WOULD SIGNIFICANTLY MOVE UP. NDAMUKONG WOULD NOT BE A GOOD IMPROVEMENT, BECAUSE THEIR D-LINE ISNT THAT BAD. - I SAY ERIC BERRY, NO MATTER WHAT TEAM, SHOULD GO FIRST ROUND, FIRST PICK IN THE DRAFT.

all of u have the permission to copy paste this to send it to the titans or chris low or somebody of importance that would consider bringing berry to the top.....

BERRY FOR THORPE, D PLAYER OF THE YEAR, AND FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICK!!! GO ERIC BERRY!

Most likely getting the first pick? Really? Have you seen Tampa and St Louis?

kdaff51 writes:

in response to CRFVols:

Wait WD.....you watch Oprah?

I'm not mad....just disappointed...lol

Doesn't everybody? Makes me appreciate "The View".

TnScooby writes:

IMO the record will happen, but it doesn't diminish in any way what EB has done this season if the record doesn't fall...Eric has been one of the best if not THE best defensive player in the strongest conference in America for all 3 years he has played..A remarkable young man on and off the field...Whoever has the opportunuty to draft him will have a playmaker for years to come...Teams don't throw his way much and don't think they will the rest of the season...But hope he gets it!

Go Vols!!!!

bluetick writes:

For some of the final games maybe they should let him roam a bit more to at least give him a better chance. That record has stood for quite a long time. I really want EB to be in the record books for that achievement.

tennezz writes:

Eric Berry will be a legend in Vols football lore for many, many years to come! A talent like him only comes along once in a lifetime! We will not likely ever see another like him! Thanks for the memories, past, present, and future, Eric and good luck in whatever you decide to do!

Eric_Berry_For_Heisman writes:

just read the name

armyvol22 writes:

in response to Witch_Doctor:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Witch Doctor go get an old movie called "Worlds Greatest Athlete” you might learn something on witch craft from the witch doctor in this movie. His stuff works on athletics. lol Good old movie too.

Pdiddy10 writes:

in response to CRFVols:

That would be awesome....for the Titans....not soo much for us. I'd like to see him stay....but with the rookie cap coming up I know tons of juniors are gonna bounce.

Dang Titans need a QB as bad as we do. They better be looking at that. I don't trust VY.

naw vince young i s good

CHISMNUMBER1FAN writes:

I love Eric Berry! I wish him LUCK in whatever he chooses to do; I personally want him to stay! I love watching him in the orange! What an amazing young man he is; I love his attitude and work ethic! It is GREAT to have a young man who only shows up in the news in a POSITIVE light! GO EB! GO BIG ORANGE!!

VolunTampa writes:

in response to cdonsbach:

Most likely getting the first pick? Really? Have you seen Tampa and St Louis?

At this rate, the Bucs probably get the first pick in the draft, but their new coaching staff is too inept to pick a real winner in Eric Berry... History suggests that they'll pick another total bust, like Gaines Adams.

Docrok writes:

Eric Berry probably will not and definitely should not stay for his Senior year! I think EB is one of the best we have had here at UT and plan to follow his professional career same as Peyton. However that being said his parents have both lost their jobs and need his assistance! Additionally his draft status is as high as it gets, period! So for Berry to risk injury and drop in the draft is only damaging to him! Sam Bradford went from the uncontested first pick in the draft to now possibly being a 2nd round pick! That is a difference of many millions of dollars! That is not something I think Berry should risk.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to tennezz:

Eric Berry will be a legend in Vols football lore for many, many years to come! A talent like him only comes along once in a lifetime! We will not likely ever see another like him! Thanks for the memories, past, present, and future, Eric and good luck in whatever you decide to do!

Agree completely! The INT-yardage record would be the cherry on top of the sundae, but he has given us a full steak-dinner's worth of value in the time he has been here. He can look forward to a lifetime of steak dinners, if that's what he wants, as a reward for all he has already done at UT and for what he WILL do in the NFL. Thanks for the memories, EB!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Docrok:

Eric Berry probably will not and definitely should not stay for his Senior year! I think EB is one of the best we have had here at UT and plan to follow his professional career same as Peyton. However that being said his parents have both lost their jobs and need his assistance! Additionally his draft status is as high as it gets, period! So for Berry to risk injury and drop in the draft is only damaging to him! Sam Bradford went from the uncontested first pick in the draft to now possibly being a 2nd round pick! That is a difference of many millions of dollars! That is not something I think Berry should risk.

Right you are, Doc! A poster mentioned earlier that there will likely be a rookie salary cap in the NFL for the 2011 draft. Say EB is projected as the #3 pick in the upcoming draft, but he decides to stay at UT for his senior year. Suppose he doesn't get hurt, continues to play well, and is projected as the #3 pick in the 2011 draft. He would likely make MILLIONS more on his initial contract if he comes out this year, before the salary cap is enacted, even if he is picked in the same spot. Who would even WANT him to pass that up?

givehim6 writes:

in response to CRFVols:

That would be awesome....for the Titans....not soo much for us. I'd like to see him stay....but with the rookie cap coming up I know tons of juniors are gonna bounce.

Dang Titans need a QB as bad as we do. They better be looking at that. I don't trust VY.

Very true would love to see Berry go to the Titans they need a new spark on the D. Want to see Berry stay one more year. The Titans do need a QB for the future.

spvol writes:

Just keep playing your game, EB. You're making all Tennessee fans proud.

TennesseeGorilla writes:

in response to coachbenchpressfakebakes:

With the 1st pick in the 2010 NFL draft the Tennessee Titans select Eric Berry defensive back University of Tennessee.

Everybody knows the titans only take SEC players in the late rounds, if we had the first pick we wouldn't get Berry, and we won't get first pick, just worst pick. We will end up with the latest pick not to make the playoffs, just like 2 years ago when Collins went 0-5 and VY brought us back to to finish 8-8.

stratocaster54 writes:

Come on coach... let him play back in Jackson's spot one last time?!?!

VOLPhan writes:

IMO - Eric Berry signifies the type of player we want at Tennessee. I only hope that for years to come, we have someone with the charater and leadership skills that Eric has... You want recuiting? A leader like Eric Berry will continue to pay dividends for years to come. Eric, selfishly I would love to see you with a "T" on your helmet next year, but I know you will be successfull in whatever you do!! I appreciate your dedication to the Big Orange!! Thank You!! GBO!!!!!

2407westTN_VOLSfan writes:

in response to Ellison_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yeah, maybe one day he will make a million dollar donation to the big orange like our great QB Peyton Manning did. The Peyton Manning Locker Room facility is one of the draws for new recruits! Go Big Orange!

mitch316 writes:

This guy is going to end up like Deon Sanders if you keep making excuses for him. Let him play his game,a nd put him in position to make plays. Deon always started echoing the medias excuses. Let Berry be Berry.

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