Berry ready to start?

Phillip Fulmer said Tennessee's defense was "out-abilitied" several times in Saturday night's 45-31 loss at Cal. That could mean freshman Eric Berry will start at strong safety in Game 2 against Southern Miss.

Berry, a 5-11, 203-pounder from Fairburn, Ga., might have more ability than any player on Tennessee's roster. Although he was signed to play cornerback, he was inserted at strong safety Saturday after senior first-teamer Jarod Parrish struggled to contain Cal's super-quick tailbacks and receivers. Berry finished with 7 tackles. Parrish had 3. Preseason All-America free safety Jonathan Hefney had 8 stops but also missed a bunch of tackles.

"Sometimes everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do, and the safety was there but didn't make the tackle," Fulmer said during his Sunday teleconference. "Jon Hefney has made a lot of plays for us over the years but he did not have one of his better games at safety."

After limiting Cal to 64 rushing yards in 2006, Tennessee was gashed for 230 rushing yards in Saturday night's rematch. Still, Fulmer said the front four played "reasonably well" and the cornerbacks "competed and did a good job." Film study revealed 22 missed tackles on defense, however, which the coach said cropped up "some at linebacker and a lot at safety."

Eric Berry, who played safety in high school, has worked at cornerback and safety since arriving at UT last summer.

"He has practiced at safety," Fulmer said. "We've been trying to teach him both positions."

Most freshmen struggle to learn one position. Based on his play at corner and safety vs. Cal, however, Berry has the savvy to play two spots.

"He's very bright and played very well," Fulmer conceded.

Asked point-blank if Berry will start at safety against Southern Miss this weekend, the head man replied, "When I have time to talk to the staff we'll let you know about any changes as far as the depth chart."


First-team defensive end Xavier Mitchell apparently suffered a concussion when he had to be helped from the field by stretcher Saturday night. Fulmer said Mitchell returned to Knoxville with the team and underwent a CAT-scan that was "negative for structural problems, which is good news. They're calling it a concussion."

The head man noted that Mitchell suffered the injury when he "whiplashed his head a little bit" while trying to assist on a tackle.

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