Borrowing Berry

Tennessee's football staff is not inclined to borrow from Peter to pay Paul ... even in its ongoing quest to resurrect a lifeless offense.

That's why the much-debated, long-awaited use of sensational sophomore safety Eric Berry on offense may be much ado about nothing. He caught one three-yard pass last weekend vs. Alabama and appears unlikely to make a significantly bigger impact this weekend vs. South Carolina.

Simply put, Vol coaches say Berry is so valuable on defense and special teams that he must be used sparingly (i.e. - one or two plays per game) on offense. That seems a bit odd, given how much time they devoted to preparing him for his offensive debut vs. Bama.

"We worked like the dickens with him on a few plays offensively," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "But he's got a lot of (defensive) duties – particularly this week – with the passing game he's getting ready to go against. He's playing on most of the special teams, so we'll have a few plays for him from an offensive standpoint."

Because Berry was a quarterback in high school, Tennessee has a mini-package featuring him lined up as a shotgun QB. The Vols have a similar package for wide receiver Gerald Jones, who missed the Tide game due to an ankle injury. Even with Jones sidelined, Berry was not utilized at quarterback last weekend. Odds are, he won't be this weekend, either.

"We expect to get Gerald Jones back," Fulmer noted, "so that will help from that standpoint a little bit."

Berry might be the most dynamic defender in college football. Just 22 games into his UT career he has 10 interceptions, putting him on pace to obliterate Tim Priest's school record of 18. Moreover, Berry is averaging a mind-boggling 39.7 yards on interception returns and has a 52-yard fumble return to his credit.

For all of his greatness, however, Berry is not immune to fatigue. He cannot play 70 snaps on defense AND play a dozen snaps on offense without feeling drained.

There is a compromise available, of course. The Vols could switch cornerback Dennis Rogan to strong safety for a dozen snaps each game, freeing Berry to play a dozen snaps on offense.

Don't expect that to happen anytime soon, however.

"That's not easy to do," Fulmer said. "We're just not blessed with a whole bunch of safeties that are playing a whole lot of good football for us, (although) we could move Dennis in there and finagle around."

Many Tennessee fans believe Berry's speed and athleticism would offset his lack of experience and familiarity with the Vol offense, enabling him to be a big-play performer. Tennessee's coaches apparently do not share this view.

"You put him over there at quarterback and it would take about a series to figure out that he's got to be able to throw the ball and do a lot of other things," Fulmer said. "If you put him at receiver, just by alignment they (defenders) can take a lot of things away."

Basically, Eric Berry was a celebrated decoy in Game 8 against Alabama. There is no reason to believe he will be much more than that in Game 9 at South Carolina.

As Fulmer explained: "We're doing as much as I think we can at this particular point – with the guy doing punt returns, kickoff returns, playing defense and some plays on offense."

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