Berry4Heisman

Though theoretically given to college football's premier player, the Heisman Trophy has become an award for college football's premier quarterback. Seven of the last eight winners have been QBs.

That makes Tennessee defensive back Eric Berry a real long-shot for the 2009 Heisman but it isn't stopping UT's media relations department from launching a campaign on Berry's behalf.

Head football coach Lane Kiffin announced the campaign during a Tuesday morning news conference, noting that "I can't imagine a guy more deserving."

As part of the campaign Tennessee is distributing Berry "calendars," with each page featuring a Word of the Week. A typical entry: "Word of the Week: Bam- (noun) A loud thud produced when Eric Berry strikes an opponent with force."

In addition, UT has unveiled a website called Berry4Heisman.com and will be posting updates on Twitter and Facebook at berry4heisman.

A 5-11, 205-pound junior from Fairburn, Ga., Berry posted a combined 158 tackles, 12 interceptions and 487 interception return yards in 2007 and 2008. He enters the '09 season needing just 15 return yards to eclipse the NCAA record (501 yards) set by Florida State's Terrell Buckley between 1989 and '91.

As a mere sophomore last season Berry was the first Vol to be a unanimous first-team All-America selection since 1990.

"Eric is such a great leader it's hard for all of us to remember that he just finished his sophomore year," Kiffin said. "You feel like he's a five-year NFL vet or something because he's so professional in the way he goes about his business, on and off the field.

"We're very happy for him. He's been great for me - to have a dynamic player already here on our roster, and the way he's opened his arms up to this staff."

After describing Berry as "maybe the best defensive player in the country," Kiffin went on to note that he is "the first one in meetings, the last one to leave ... always asking questions."

Only one defensive player to date has claimed a Heisman - Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997 - and he won largely because he doubled as a part-time receiver and kick returner. Kiffin says he might give Berry a look as a return specialist but has no plans to use him on offense.

"First, I would never play someone based on an award," the Vol coach said. "I was hired here to win games and do the best thing for our team.... To put Eric over there, I really don't see that helping us win."

Kiffin went on to note that working Berry on offense "takes away from him what he does best (make tackles and defend passes)," adding: "This defensive scheme is going to even make him better."

Moreover, after missing much of spring practice with shoulder problems, Berry needs more time to get comfortable with the defensive system the Vols are installing this year.

"He's learning a brand new scheme," Kiffin said. "It's not like he's going into his third year of a scheme and (coaches can say) 'OK, let's just take him over to offense for this week because he knows the defense so well.' He didn't hit all spring, so he's missed a lot of stuff, and I want to make sure he's the best safety in America."

In addition to costing Berry valuable practice repetitions at safety, working him on offense would deny freshmen Nu'Keese Richardson, James Green, Marsalis Teague and Zach Rogers much-needed practice repetitions at receiver.

"I think it would water down their learning," Kiffin said, "and I think it would water down his learning on defense, as well."

Although Berry is very unlikely to play offense this fall, he could wind up fielding some punts and/or kickoffs.

"We've talked about it," Kiffin said. "He wasn't able to have contact in the spring, so we didn't do anything with it then. But we may look at him at that."


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