Berry leaning toward leaving early for NFL

After several days off, the Tennessee Volunteers returned to the indoor practice field Friday as the Vols prepare for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. UT went through a spirited 1 hour and 45 minute physical practice. Lane Kiffin had a lot to say about his team's work ethic and desire to do well in Tennessee's return to a bowl Game. Will Eric Berry return for his senior season?

The Volunteers endured a physical practice indoors Friday evening in preparations for their bowl game December 31 against ACC opponent Virginia Tech.

"I think they've come out with good energy, they understand the importance," Head Coach Lane Kiffin said. "Although they get time off, when they come out here it's got to be a work mode."

Kiffin made only one injury note, which was to offensive guard Vladimir Richard, who has been playing through a knee injury for most of the season.

"Vlad moved around a little bit today," Kiffin said. "He could really be the only guy who's out now."

The Volunteers appeared to have a typical practice, with no emphasis on preparations for the upcoming opponent apparent.

"We kind of took it back to the basics (today)," defensive back Eric Berry said. "Just making sure we know our simple stuff in the playbook, our base defense."

"We're not really practicing for Virginia Tech now," freshmen linebacker Herman Lathers said. "We're just playing some offense versus defense."

Berry Good

A lot of attention was centered on defensive back Eric Berry, who on Thursday night snagged the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to the nation's best defensive back.

"For him to win that award down there, that's a big deal," Lane Kiffin said. "We're very excited for him, especially to win it as a junior."

Berry made a significant statement to ESPN's Chris Fowler, which many believed signaled the junior's intent to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft in the spring.

"I'm going to really miss the fans," Berry said Thursday. "The fans were always into the game whether we won or lost. They always stuck by us."

Friday night, the questions and assumptions continued to position Berry in the response spotlight.

"I feel like I'll sit down and talk about it with Coach Kiffin," Berry said. "How can I contribute to the team, is it worth coming back."

"Right now I'm kind of leaning towards leaving but I'm getting more opinions on it. I talked to Jerod Mayo, Jason Allen, people who've been in that situation to get more advice on it."

The defensive back made a splash returning kickoffs for Tennessee in the final game of the season against Kentucky, returning two kicks for a total of 49 yards.

When asked if he was hoping to return a few kicks in the bowl game, the defensive back expressed his typically modest, unselfish attitude.

"It's not really a priority of mine," the junior said. "But if it helps the team then of course I will."

Lathered Up and Ready to Go

Freshmen middle linebacker Herman Lathers has come a long way in one season, beginning the year behind Nick Reveiz and Savion Frazier on the depth chart before landing at the starting spot because of injuries.

Lathers was one of two Tennessee freshmen named to the Freshmen All-SEC team Thursday, alongside offensive tackle Aaron Douglas.

"It felt great, it's a great honor and I'm willing to accept it," Lathers joked.

Lathers has started the last four games at middle linebacker, which is the defensive signal-calling position, and currently sits fifth on the team in tackles with 40.

Starting in a nationally televised, primetime bowl game is something that, to the freshman, comes with the title.

"I take every game as it comes, you never know what's going to happen," Lathers said. "I'm always prepared, I'm always in the film room watching film, asking Nick for advice."

Nick Reveiz, who was the starting middle linebacker for the first four games for the Volunteers, was cited by Lathers as a strong support unit in his preparations.

"We watch extra film, on the practice field he's always out there, when I have questions I come off the field and ask him."

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