"I'm not exaggerating at all," the Vols' first-year defensive coordinator said. "I tell everybody who asks me where he ranks: 'Wherever I am and whatever pick I have in the first round, I'm picking Eric Berry.'"
That level of praise may sound exaggerated since Kiffin has yet to see Berry at his best. The 5-11, 205-pounder was limited throughout spring practice by a recent shoulder surgery. Kiffin saw enough in some 2008 game films and a few spring practice drills, however, to recognize that Berry is one of a kind.
"Some people are really good in the box," the Vol coordinator said. "Some people are good in the middle of the field. Some people have great ball skills. Some people have got it all except they're not quite as sharp. Some people have everything but you wish they liked football a little bit more ... maybe they could be a leader.
"He can run. He can hit. He loves football. He's a leader. He's a good guy. He's smart. Isn't there something that maybe he's not good in? I don't know. I haven't seen that yet."
What Berry has accomplished in his first two college seasons is almost beyond comprehension. His 25 starts have produced 12 interceptions and 487 interception return yards, just 14 yards shy of the NCAA career record. He returned his last five picks of 2008 for 264 yards, a mind-boggling 52.8-yard average. In the process he became UT's first unanimous All-American since 1990.
Given how much Berry loves college football, he might pull a Peyton Manning and stick around Tennessee for four years. Whether the Vols get him for three seasons or four, however, they'll get his best effort every time he takes the field. Eric Berry is not the kind of guy to hold back in order to protect the big pro payday his future surely holds.
"He's not going to come out his last year – well, I don't know it's his last year – and say, 'Oh, I'm not going to hit.'" Kiffin said. "We have to keep him out of there (full-speed practice work) as it is. Even when he's not supposed to be going full-speed he's still trying to blow somebody up.
"He's a special guy."