Eric Berry meets fans at Houndogs
Eric Berry is almost to the point of exhaustion.
"Shoot, I don't know what else they want to see," Berry said Saturday, referring to NFL general managers and coaches who have so thoroughly inspected his game for nearly four months.
Like every elite prospect in the NFL draft that begins Thursday (TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m.), the Tennessee safety has been scrutinized like a mysterious piece of mail.
Can Berry play cornerback? Can Berry play the run? How's the toe he sprained during that workout in March?
It's enough to cause a flood of emotions for the usually reserved All-American.
"Very excited, nervous and anxious," said Berry, who added that his toe was just fine.
Mostly, the questions from NFL scouts about Berry have been more about the position he plays than the player he is. It's not forgoing his senior season. Safety isn't historically regarded as a premium position. NFL teams would rather have a great quarterback, defensive end, offensive tackle, cornerback, defensive tackle or even perhaps a linebacker than a great safety.
Therefore, Berry has had to prove he's more than just a great prospect. He's had to prove he's almost perfect. Fact is, he's almost done just that.
National publications have featured flowery reports that have compared Berry to recent NFL greats that are changing the perception of the safety position, such as Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens.
Sports Illustrated, USA Today and Yahoo!Sports were some of the national media to recently jump on board. The love fest has been mostly ignored by Berry.
"I haven't been watching TV too much, just been playing the game and trying to stay busy," said Berry, who was invited to New York for the draft. "The more I sit around and think about it, the more I get butterflies, so I just try to stay occupied.
"I read the one that was in Sports Illustrated, and there was another one in USA Today that I read. I was very pleased with those. But there's been some other stuff out there that I've been reading that I've been using for motivation - just really trying to stay grounded."
Safety has been questioned extensively this season with three safeties - Berry, Earl Thomas of Texas and Taylor Mays of Southern California - projected to be selected in the first round.
Berry is such a great NFL prospect that some teams seemed determined to turn him into a cornerback when he first was inspected at the NFL combine.
That talk has subsided, mercifully so for Berry.
"I think a lot of the coaches and GMs like the fact that I can play corner, but I play safety," Berry said. "I think putting me at corner would limit me a little bit. I think that's what Tennessee realized when they put me at corner (in 2007). I can make plays at corner, but I think it takes me out of the running game and takes me out of being around the ball a little bit more. I really do enjoy playing safety."
That versatility may one day become en vogue. It could even happen tonight - if the NFL finally thinks like Berry.
"They have to (value safeties) when you're facing guys like (quarterbacks) Drew Brees and Tom Brady," he said. "(And) you have to have a good safety that can cover the slot (receiver) when you have people like Wes Welker, catching 80 to 90 balls a season. You need a safety to come in to compete with those guys. (The way people view safeties) has to be different."
At times, the debate gets exhausting.