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Eric Berry finished his collegiate career second in NCAA history in interception return yards, and the University of Tennessee junior is widely projected to be the first safety selected in the 2010 NFL Draft.


Eric Berry of Tennessee Projected as Top Safety in 2010 NFL Draft

INDIANAPOLIS – As Eric Berry sees it, there's no reason to get caught up in history.

And as far as conventional wisdom, the free safety from the University of Tennessee said it makes little sense when it comes to selecting football players.

Berry, considered by some perhaps the best overall player regardless of position in the 2010 NFL Draft, said while conventional NFL scouting wisdom and history indicate that the position of safety isn't worthy of being the No. 1 overall selection, he sees it differently.

And as Berry sees it, he's versatile. He's productive.

And he has a chance to be a productive, dynamic player in the NFL for a long, long time.

"I really do feel that I'm supposed to be up there with those guys," Berry said at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, which was held at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis in late February.

"I don't think something like a position should keep you from (being) up there. If you want to get into positions, I played every position in the defensive backfield in (Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte) Kiffin's scheme. You could also say I played a little linebacker also. Free safety, strong safety, nickel corner for three years. Also I played true corner.

"I feel I bring a lot to the table and have a lot to offer to any team that picks me up."

Berry, who said during the combine he hoped to be the first player selected overall but knew he couldn't control that, widely is projected to be the first free safety selected, and is generally projected as a Top 10 selection.

Berry (6-feet-0, 211 pounds), who some observers believe could play cornerback in the NFL, has been projected in some mock drafts to be selected No. 5 overall by Kansas City, while few mock drafts have him slipping past the Cleveland Browns at No. 7.

Asked at the combine why he considered himself the best player in the draft, he replied, "because I bring a lot to the table."

"I can do pretty much anything the coaches ask me to," he said. "I can play free or strong, like I said, or nickel corner. You don't have to bring in the nickel package for me because I can cover up the slot based on regular personnel.

"There's pretty much a lot I bring to the table."

Berry, who started as a true freshman and was named Southeastern Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year by The Sing News, started all 39 career games in college, registering 14 interceptions, including seven during his sophomore season.

Despite teams often throwing away from him during his junior season, he finished his career with 494 interception return yards, second in NCAA history, and he said his development was greatly enhanced playing for Kiffin – formerly the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – this past season.

"He made me so much of a better player just from the mental part of the game," Berry said. "He told us exactly why he was calling plays. He just didn't call plays and make us run it. He would say, 'OK, it's third and short and this is why we're calling this play against this team' or 'This is what you can expect from them.'

"So you kind of got into the mind of a defensive coordinator and kind of understood his philosophy of what he was doing."

Kiffin influenced Berry in another way, too. While he said he his parents were the major reason he left Tennessee, he said he also discussed the decision with Kiffin.

"Monte told me I'd be a fool to come back," he said, adding, "It was a very tough decision. I really did enjoy my time at Tennessee. It's a very good university, a great university. The fans were very supportive. When I sat down and made the decision, I had to put my family pretty much before my school. Ever since I can remember, my mom and dad were always working. My dad worked two jobs. My dad just recently had heart surgery, and I really just wanted him to be able to sit down and just enjoy life for a little bit. I felt I could do that by entering the draft and making that situation better."

While Berry's size has prompted some analysts to project him as a corner, he said he has watched extensively such elite NFL safeties as Bob Sanders of the Colts, Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens.

"I like to take different things from different players because my role on defense has been so multiple," Berry said. "I've played every position in the defensive backfield so I would have to look at different guys that played those positions and kind of put it into one and make it kind of my own defensive player.

"It just depends on the team and how they want to use me. I feel like I could do either one well."

And although he is projected by most analysts to be as close to a can't-miss prospect as there is in the 2010 NFL Draft, Berry said there are enough who don't see him that way to provide motivation.

"The thing I do before every season is pretty much go find the worst thing that's said about me," he said. "Whenever someone has something negative to say about me, I post it up in my bathroom. I look at it every day when I brush my teeth. I see things like I lack ball skills and things like that. A lot of people don't even have me in the top 10, which is very motivating to me. Some don't have me early first round.

"Some have me mid- to late-first round. I just look at that as motivation."

With the impact in recent seasons of players such as Ed Reed, Bob Sanders and Troy Polamalu, safety increasingly has become a prime draft position. This year's top player at the position, Eric Berry, is widely considered one of the safest, elite-level players in the draft. He also has been projected as a possible cornerback, with Taylor Mays of Southern California also projected as a potential first-round selection, and with Nate Allen of South Florida a potential late first-rounder and Morgan Burnett of Georgia Tech a solid second-round projection.

Bob Sanders, seventh season, Iowa; Antoine Bethea, fifth season, Howard; Melvin Bullitt, fourth season, Texas A&M; Jamie Silva, third season, Boston College.

The last safeties drafted by the Colts . . .

2007: Brannon Condren, fourth round, Troy.

2006: Antoine Bethea, sixth round, Howard.

2005: Matt Giordano, fourth round, California.

2004: Bob Sanders, second round, Iowa.

2003: Cato June, sixth round, Michigan.

2003: Mike Doss, second round, Ohio State.

An alphabetical list of 10 free safeties expected to be selected in the 2010 NFL Draft . . .

Nate Allen, South Florida, 6-1, 207

Eric Berry*, Tennessee, 6-0, 211

Morgan Burnett*, Georgia Tech, 6-2, 209

Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech, 6-3, 231

Robert Johnson, Utah, 6-2, 203

Myron Lewis, Vanderbilt, 6-2, 203

Taylor Mays, Southern Cal, 6-3, 230

Donovan Warren*, Michigan, 6-0, 193

Terrell Skinner, Maryland, 6-2, 214

Major Wright*, Florida, 6-0, 206

Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.

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