Rated the No. 1 cornerback prospect in all of high school football last fall, Eric Berry has exhibited a willingness to work hard – in the weight room, in the class room and on the practice field – since arriving at UT earlier this summer. That has enabled him to fit in with the veteran defensive backs.
"It's the same theme throughout my group: Eric fits right in because he is a hard-working, blue collar-type guy that will get after your butt," Slade said. "We are excited about him. If you didn't know better, you'd think that guy was a sophomore or a junior. We're excited about what he can do for this football team."
Despite his lack of experience at the collegiate level, the 5-11, 203-pounder from Fairburn, Ga., could be in the secondary mix when Tennessee opens the 2007 season Sept. 1 at California. There are three reasons:
1. He's that good.
2. Tennessee is minus four of its top five defensive backs from 2006.
3. The Vols face a quality passing attack right out of the gate.
Cal might be the best passing team Tennessee faces all season. The Golden Bears boast a veteran quarterback in Nate Longshore and a preseason All-America receiver in DeSean Jackson. With the opener at Berkeley barely three weeks away, Slade knows his secondary must come together in a real hurry.
"As far as going out and playing in a game, that's big," the Vol aide said. "But I'll say this: It gets done in practice. When we go to practice we're going to play against some pretty good receivers, a pretty good quarterback and a pretty good offense."
If Berry can do the job in practice these next few weeks, he'll be in the mix – if not the starting lineup – when the Vols challenge the Golden Bears.
"Show me you can do it in practice, over and over and over again," Slade said. "Then I'm not going to worry too much about the games."