Targeting head-hunters

Tennessee's All-America safety is featured on TV a lot. Not all of the highlights are entirely positive, though.

For example, several of Eric Berry's most dynamic career tackles were replayed on television last weekend in an effort to illustrate the NCAA's new crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits.

"My brother actually called me after he saw ESPN talking about that rule - the head-hunting rule," Berry recalled this week. "He said, 'They're talking about you on TV.' He said they showed a lot of my highlights on there (saying) they would've been penalties and things like that."

Berry is known as an aggressive player but not a dirty player. He belted Knowshon Moreno so forcefully last fall that he sent the Georgia tailback wobbling to the sidelines. The blow was hard but clean. With the new emphasis on preventing helmet-to-helmet hits, however, some of Berry's tackles that were acceptable in 2007 and 2008 may draw 15-yard penalties in 2009. Naturally, that concerns him a bit.

"It's very hard to think about that during a play - making a big hit downfield," Berry said. "Wide receivers do the same thing to DBs on crack-back blocks. There are plenty of times where a DB isn't looking and gets hit head-to-head and that's not called. It's hard for a player to think about that on the field, so I don't know what to say about that."

Georgia's Reshad Jones incurred a critical 15-yard penalty for a high hit on an Oklahoma State receiver last weekend that an official ruled to be dangerous. Berry did not agree with the ruling.

"I saw the hit, and I didn't think it was head to head," he said. "I thought it was a good, solid hit. I guess they're just trying to protect the players this year, keep everyone healthy. We'll just see what happens."

To date, Vol staffers have not made an issue of the new officiating emphasis on head-hunting hits.

"I haven't really heard anything from the coaches about it," Berry said. "They just want you to go to the ball full-speed and try to make a play."

Berry's aggressive nature is among the key ingredients that make him one of the premier defensive players in college football. He wants to conform to the new guidelines on tackling but does not want to become tentative. He still intends to punish any ball-carrier or receiver who ventures into his area.

"You try to make the tackle and separate him from the ball most of the time," Berry said. "It's going to be hard to think about where you need to hit him with the new rule. I don't know how to approach that - as far as the tackle - when the wide receiver's coming full-speed at you or you're running full-speed. I don't know if you're supposed to hit him low if he jumps or grab his leg when he jumps. I really don't know."

Ultimately, each officiating crew will determine where to draw the line between a legal hit and a head-hunting hit. Eric Berry might find out where that line is drawn Saturday afternoon vs. UCLA.

Of course, he might draw a 15-yard penalty in the process.


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