Berry to start vs. Southern Miss

A promising freshman who started Game 1 as Tennessee's nickel back will start Game 2 as the Vols' first-team strong safety.

Eric Berry, the top-rated cornerback prospect in America when he signed with Tennessee last February, replaced senior strong safety Jarod Parrish midway through UT's 45-31 Game 1 loss at California Saturday night. Berry wound up recording 7 tackles – 3 of them solos. Only junior linebacker Jerod Mayo (10) and senior free safety Jonathan Hefney (8) were credited with more stops.

"Eric Berry is a special football player," head coach Phillip Fulmer said earlier today. "He started the (first) ball game because we were in a nickel package and he'll start this week at safety, opposite Jon Hefney."

The head man added that Berry "did a really good job for his first game against a quality opponent. We're looking for great things from him."

Defensive coordinator John Chavis said the 5-11, 203-pound freshman from Fairburn, Ga., did "a tremendous job, considering the amount of time we had to get him ready."

Particularly impressive was how quickly Berry adapted to safety – the position he played in high school – after working primarily at cornerback in UT's preseason drills.

"Obviously, getting him ready to play corner was our No. 1 priority," Chavis said. "But we felt like we needed to get him some work at safety because things were not happening the way we'd like for them to happen.

"He did a great job. He's a competitor. He's a great athlete. He can play any of the four (secondary) positions. That makes him very valuable to us."

Parrish, a 6-3, 200-pound senior, was the surprise player of spring practice with four interceptions during the three major scrimmages. He couldn't match the athleticism of Cal's speedy tailbacks and receivers, however, which is why the super-agile Berry wound up taking his spot.

"He's a great athlete; everybody knows that," Mayo said of Berry. "He has this scheme pretty much under his belt. He ran a scheme similar to this in high school. He's a great player, and I look forward to watching him play for a long time."

Asked if Berry can provide an added dimension for Tennessee's defense, Mayo nodded.

"I think he can … that playmaking ability that he's shown, in the scrimmages and in the game," the junior linebacker said. "He came in off the bench and played pretty well."


Berry won't be the only new face on Tennessee's first-team defense Saturday night. The pre-game depth chart lists sophomore Dan Williams ahead of senior J.T. Mapu, who started Game 1 at right defensive tackle.

Chavis said Williams "has earned the opportunity to start," adding that "Dan did a good job for us. He played better than the guy in front of him."

Williams, a 6-3, 300-pounder from Memphis, has rarely played up to his talent level at Tennessee, which has led to ongoing friction with his head coach.

"I've been on his rear – along with Coach (Dan) Brooks and Coach (John) Chavis – to step up his play," Fulmer said. "In the (Cal) ball game he played fast and played pretty well."

The head man added that he's hoping for a "consistent effort" from Williams and "I'm also hopeful J.T. will take the challenge and work to win his spot back. That will make us all better."

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