Berry vs. Mays

Some observers think Tennessee's Eric Berry is the finest defensive player in college football. Others aren't even sure he's the finest SAFETY in college football.

That's because Southern Cal has a sensational safety of its own in senior standout Taylor Mays.

Mays is a 6-3, 230-pound freak of nature who reportedly runs a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. He finished third in balloting for the 2008 Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the NCAA's premier defensive back. Berry finished second and Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins first.

Physically, Mays gets the nod over the 5-11, 205-pound Berry. In terms of production, however, Eric Berry is the more imposing player.

Berry recorded 86 tackles in 14 games as a freshman (2007) and 72 stops in 12 games as a sophomore (2008). He also has 22 pass breakups and 12 interceptions to show for his first two college seasons.

Mays registered 62 tackles as a freshman, 65 as a sophomore and 53 as a junior. He has 18 pass breakups and 4 interceptions to show for his first three college seasons.

Lane Kiffin is uniquely qualified to compare the two, since he was offensive coordinator at Southern Cal when Mays was a freshman in 2006 and now serves as Berry's head coach.

"They're different," Kiffin said. "Taylor's bigger. Taylor's more straight-line, knock-you-out. Eric can do that, too.

"But Pete (USC coach Pete Carroll) would never take Taylor and play him at nickel. Eric's played some nickel for us. That's more of a cover, guy and you play littler guys. They're different that way."

Ultimately, Berry's versatility may give him an edge over Mays.

"I think Eric can do more things than Taylor can," Kiffin said. "Taylor's a great safety and is a great kid and a big-time hitter but I think Eric can actually do more things than Taylor can.

"That's nothing against Taylor; it's just that Eric's build allows him to do that. He's got better hips, he's got quicker feet but Taylor's bigger. It'll be an interesting (NFL) draft a year from now ... I've already given up that Eric won't be here for his last year."

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