"We thought he was really good, and he is," Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said on his first Sunday teleconference of the 2007 season. "You never know about a freshman until they get to camp. Eric is very mature and very physical in that he can play the ball, force the run and get his hands on receivers."
Still, Berry is a freshman who is prone to make freshman mistakes.
"We know there's still going to be a learning curve for the young guys, as far as the speed of the game," Fulmer said. "We've tried to expose them as much as we could but Eric is well advanced from the typical freshman."
Berry is one of a dozen or so freshmen likely to see action in the opener at Cal. This crop of rookies appears to be considerably more talented, more poised and more confident than most of its recent predecessors.
Fulmer said he typically plays around half of his freshmen during the course of a season. On Sunday, however, he said he expects to play "a little more than usual" this fall.
The head man has raved about this "special group" of freshmen all preseason. On Sunday he specifically mentioned several he thinks will see action in Game 1 – Berry, wide receivers Denarius Moore, Gerald Jones and Brent Vinson, running backs Lennon Creer and Daryl Vereen, linebacker Savion Frazier, defensive end Chris Walker and cornerback/return specialist Dennis Rogan.
Moore and Jones are listed second-team at receiver, with Vinson and junior college transfer Kenny O'Neal slotted as third-teamers. Ahmad Paige is listed as a fourth-teamer. Creer is listed No. 3 and Vereen No. 4 at tailback. Kevin Cooper, though not mentioned by Fulmer, is listed No. 2 behind Chris Brown at one of the two tight end spots.
On defense, Berry is listed No. 2 and Rogan No. 3 at left corner. Walker is No. 3 at right end and Frazier is No. 3 at weakside linebacker
Two junior college transfers – DeAngelo Willingham and Nevin McKenzie – are listed second-team at right cornerback and strong safety, respectively. Freshman Art Evans is listed third-team at right cornerback.
Yet another freshman, pass-rush whiz Ben Martin, was on track to see significant playing time at defensive end in the opener until he suffered a bone bruise in his knee during a preseason scrimmage. He could be back in time for Game 3 at Florida. Fulmer noted that Martin "when he gets to be 100 percent, will get himself into the rotation."
Ultimately, the Vols' 2007 freshmen appear most likely to have significant impact at wide receiver, at cornerback, at running back and on special teams. Denarius Moore is paired with junior Arian Foster on kickoff returns and Dennis Rogan is No. 2 behind Jonathan Hefney on punt returns.
"There are some skill guys who bring a speed factor to your team," Fulmer said, "That's real positive."