It's not that Aaron Berry, a sophomore cornerback at the University of Pittsburgh, whiffed on the play. But a big hit on a wideout teammate wasn't part of the drill at a recent training camp practice. So, Berry, who stepped into a starting role this past spring, held up. But he didn't hold his tongue.
"I could've lit him up,'' Berry said. "I had a clean shot on him, but I wouldn't do that to a teammate. But he better not come across the middle once we start to scrimmage. It all changes after that.''
Berry will get a chance to knock around opposing receivers this season as Pitt's cover corner, taking over for departed NFL first-round draft pick Darrelle Revis. Berry will play alongside fifth-year senior Kennard Cox this season. Cox is a second-year starter.
"K.C. (Cox) and Revis taught me a lot and showed me a lot last year,'' Berry said. "Revis, he had to move on, it was his time to go to the League. So, I'm just trying to step in for him, but that won't be an easy job.
"I just have to work hard and keep it going, keep the competition going and the level of play high. I played a little bit last year, when Revis had some problems, so I was able to get a little experience. And I'm not going out there with the jitters this year like I would have if I didn't play.''
While Berry certainly doesn't lack confidence in his abilities, first-year Pitt secondary coach Chris Ball appears to be his biggest fan.
"He's very talented, that's for sure,'' Ball said. "But he's also very young and generally inexperienced. He just needs to get some playing time. The other thing is that he doesn't need to be a star out there because we have some veteran guys out there on defense that can handle that role much better. But Aaron's going to be in that category before you know it.''
Cox, while not a shutdown corner that Berry is expected to become, has been a solid tackler and big-time hitter -- as well as a smooth talker -- so he is looked to for leadership on defense. Another fifth-year senior, Mike Phillips, and redshirt junior Eric Thatcher are the safeties. So, there's plenty of experience in the secondary to support Berry.
"K.C.'s a veteran out there,'' Berry said. "He's a leader. I remember what we went through last year, so it's going to be good for me to have a fifth-year senior with me out there. And I think we make a good team.
"He's strong on the short side, a big hitter and good tackler, and I've improved my game a lot. My speed and quickness have improved, and I'm a lot stronger. I weigh about 175 now, so I feel a little better and a lot stronger. I played at about 160 last year, so I'm a lot stronger this year.''
With three NFL Draft choices, Revis and linebackers H.B. Blades and Clint Session gone from an average defense, some might believe the Panthers have their work cut out for themselves to stop opposing offenses.
"We just have to go out there and compete and work hard and stick together the best that we can,'' Berry said. "I still feel like we have a lot of talent on this defense, from the guys up front to the linebackers and then into the secondary. So, we should be able to produce at a high level.
"We've got a lot more depth with the young guys added in there, and they're really pushing all the veteran guys. We're much better up front, too, so that's going to make a big difference. Sure, we don't have lots of experience, but we have a lot of talent that should improve with every game.''
Berry Shuts Down Wideouts
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