Eric Berry, one of the most beloved football players at Tennessee over the past two decades, isn’t sure what his legacy will be.
He knows what he hopes it will be.
“Hopefully, the fans and the alumni at Tennessee will look at me as a guy with great character on and off the field,” Berry said. “I will always be a Tennessee guy. I hope they remember me as a good player, but I hope they view me even more as a good guy.”
As safeties go, Berry was one of the best the SEC has seen in the past 10 years, good enough that he’s being projected to go in the top five picks of the NFL draft.
To put that into perspective, there hasn’t been a defensive back taken in the top five picks of the draft since the late Sean Taylor went No. 5 overall to the Washington Redskins in 2004.
As fate would have it, Taylor was one of the players Berry patterned his game after along with Ed Reed.
“I tried to put both of them together and make me, I guess,” Berry said. “I know I’m not as big as Sean was. But the way he carried himself and the attitude he had toward his opponent … I tried to have that same attitude and his presence to go along with Ed Reed's ball skills.”
Berry has been training down in Boca Raton, Fla., and only solidified his stock by running a 4.47 40-yard dash at the NFL combine last month. His vertical leap and broad jump were also off-the-charts good.
But it’s the game tape that sets Berry apart.
“I think I play at a much faster speed when they turn on the film and see me running from sideline to sideline, see me running with some of the best wide receivers and getting to the ball pretty fast,” Berry said. “Even some of the guys you see running a 4.3, I don’t see a lot of guys playing at that speed every play. But I believe I run a 4.4 or under on every play.
“That’s the time that matters.”
Berry was utilized differently last season in Monte Kiffin’s defense and really took on more of a linebacker’s role.
“I was a lot more in the box and down in the trenches a little bit,” said Berry, who led all SEC defensive backs with 87 total tackles. “That was a little different than what I was accustomed to, but I think it showed a lot of the GMs and coaches that I can go into any kind of system and learn it and learn it well. Really, it just solidified my resume.”
Soon after Berry declared for the NFL draft this past January, he sat his parents, James and Carol, down in their suburban Atlanta home and informed them that their working days were over.
“I told them they were officially retired,” Berry quipped.
His father, who also played at Tennessee, is still recovering from heart surgery he had last summer. His mother had also recently been out of work.
“I’m very happy to see them doing well and that they can enjoy this whole process and relax,” Berry said. “It’s time for me to take care of them.”