Berry packs a wallop

Appearances to the contrary, he didn't make all of Tennessee's tackles in last Saturday's game against Florida ... he just made all of the memorable ones.

Strong safety is a hitter's position, and Eric Berry certainly filled the job description against the Gators. Every time there was a resounding thud, you could bet the guy with the white 14 on his orange jersey would be responsible.

Had Berry's performance come in a memorable victory, he'd be the talk of Big Orange Country this week. Since it occurred in a forgettable loss, Berry's performance is largely forgotten ... except by the Vol coaching staff.

"He's a fierce hitter," Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "He plays with a passion, loves to play the game. He's all the things you look for, and that's a big plus."

Berry, a 5-11, 205-pound sophomore from Fairburn, Ga., was rated America's No. 1 cornerback prospect as a high school senior. He established himself as a big-time hitter his first week at UT, however, which earned him a move to strong safety, where he earned Freshman All-America recognition in 2007.

"He's great in the open field as far as tackling," Tennessee secondary coach Larry Slade said. "What more can be said? When the bright lights come on, those great players tend to shine. He gave you an example of that versus Florida."

Tennessee has fielded some standout safeties in recent years – Dale Carter, Deon Grant and Jason Allen to name a few. Berry might be the best of the lot, however, because he combines the ability to run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds, the ability to dislodge a mouthpiece via a bone-jarring hit and an infectious zest for the game.

"He is a very passionate player," Slade said. "He plays with his heart. He plays tough and physical. He's an outstanding player. The thing that happens with great players is that the guys around them play better. (Cornerback) Dennis Rogan, for instance, is really playing well."

Chavis agrees that Berry's contributions go far beyond tackles and assists, pass breakups and interceptions.

"Eric right now is growing into one of our better leaders – if he isn't already – and he does it by example," Chavis said. "Eric is not a guy that's going to talk a lot but it (leadership) shows up on film.

"In an ideal situation you'd like to have 11 just like him. But, to tell you the truth, those folks are few and far between. That doesn't mean we don't have other good leaders but he's got that bubbly personality and he practices the same way.

"It's a big plus in practice because other kids look at him and see the tempo he's going at in practice. It makes it a lot easier on us (coaches) in preparation because of peer pressure."

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