Berry has quick wit, too

The most heralded member of Tennessee football's freshman class proved during Saturday's Picture Day that his wit is just as quick as his feet.

Eric Berry recalled being asked by Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer if he wanted to play quarterback or defensive back. Most freshmen would choose the glamor of quarterback over the relative obscurity of defensive back. Not Berry, who obviously has a good head for finance, as well as for football.

"I'll give up the touches during a game," he quipped, "to make a few more millions (of dollars)."

Berry could make millions of dollars as an NFL cornerback someday, thanks to an athletic 5-11, 203-pound frame and 4.3 speed over 40 yards. First, though, he hopes to make an impact at Tennessee. When asked about the transition to college ball, the Fairburn, Ga., native exhibited his wit again.

"The biggest transition is that the guys are SOOO big," he said. "The speed is pretty much the same. Playing around Atlanta, everybody's fast. But the size ... You've got Ramon Foster (6-6, 325-pound Vol guard) over there. I've never seen anybody that big that can move like that. That's kind of tripping me out right now."

Berry's sense of humor also surfaced when he was asked about all of the publicity he is generating. He was rated America's No. 1 cornerback prospect as a senior at Creekside High, a fact his fellow freshmen will not let him forget.

"Oh, man, this class!" he said, shaking his head. "We'll be out in public and they'll say, 'Oh, this is Eric Berry, five-star.' They'll be putting all this attention on me. I'm like 'Come on, guys.' But it's funny, though."

Weary of the hoopla, Berry studiously avoids newspapers, magazines and talk radio. He finds the hype flattering but boring.

"It's good to hear it," he said. "I just don't pay attention to it."

Most of Berry's hype is justified. He has a good chance to start in a Vol secondary that is minus three of its four 2006 starters. Fulmer also may use him as an occasional shotgun quarterback in a package similar to the "Wildcat" package used by Arkansas last fall.

"I'm excited about that," Berry said, "but he told me I've got to get acquainted with the defense and get comfortable with all the coverages and stuff, and then he'll move me over to that (offensive) side of the ball."

Although he enjoyed considerable success as a high school quarterback, Berry says he never gave serious thought to playing that position in college.

"I figured I would be more successful at corner," he said. "Height was always an issue at quarterback. I just tried to be realistic about the situation."

Because he is "realistic about the situation," Berry admits he could never be a full-time quarterback at Tennessee.

"I can throw it pretty good," he said. "But, as far as the system here, I don't think I could be as productive as (Erik) Ainge or somebody else that's a pro-style quarterback."

In addition to offense and defense, Berry may contribute on Tennessee's special teams this fall. His speed could earn him a job returning kickoffs. Asked which of the three options he finds most interesting, he shrugged.

"I just love being on the field, to tell you the truth," he said. "Just anywhere I can make plays and help the team out. Just wearing this orange is a big plus."

Even so, the prospect of playing multiple roles intrigues him.

"That's got me real excited," he said. "I'm ready for these two-a-days, to get a little contact and see where I stand."


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