Published April 22, 2010
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — For many players, what they sneak around and do on Friday nights before games drops them lower in the estimation of NFL scouts.
Eric Berry's Friday night activity helped persuade Kansas City to take the smart, playmaking Tennessee safety with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft Thursday night.
"They'd find him in the equipment room helping the equipment manager shine the helmets before a game day," said Chiefs coach Todd Haley. "Little things like that on top of what you see on the football field, I think it just became clear this was the guy for the Chiefs."
A three-year starter for the Volunteers, Berry fills the biggest single need the Chiefs had. He'll be expected to step right in and start for a team that was 4-12 last season with a defense that ranked 31st overall. A member of the National Honor Society who graduated high school with a 3.75 grade point average, he was voted Tennessee's team captain as a sophomore.
"We've done a lot of research," Haley said. "We worked a lot of players out. We spent a lot of time with a lot of different players. As the time went on, it just became more and more clear this was the fit for us, for a lot of reasons."
The Chiefs figure the 6-foot, 211-pound Berry can play either free or strong safety, and will probably do both.
"He's a physical player," Haley said. "Very physical. He looks for contact. He's not afraid to make big plays, and I think he's versatile. He has the ability to cover and in the division we're in, we've got to cover some of these tight ends and backs and wide receivers."
In a three-year college career, Berry recorded 245 tackles and intercepted 14 passes, returning them for 494 yards — just seven yards shy of the NCAA record.
The Chiefs have won only 10 games the past three seasons and have needs everywhere. It became obvious they would probably use their high first-round pick on defense after they focused mainly on offense during free agency, signing running back Thomas Jones, linemen Ryan Lilja and Casey Wiegmann, and wide receiver Jerheme Urban.
"When you have the type of year we had, you have a lot of needs," Haley said. "We went through the process with the staff. At times had to laugh about it, 'We could use this, we could use this.' But you have to narrow it down and take the guy who helped you the most."
Playing strong safety most of his career, Berry also had 222 yards in returns off interceptions as a true freshman.
"He's shown the ability to cover in man-to-man situations," Haley said. "He's a very good down-in-the-box hitter. And he's been real good in the back end out in the open field where you have to make some of those difficult plays. And it looks like he has a little knack in pressuring the quarterback."
Perhaps most impressively, he was penalized only once in a three-year college career.
"That was a pass interference call my freshman year. I don't know if I did pass interference. But they called it on me," Berry said with a chuckle. "After that, I really took pride in not getting penalties."
Berry said he's ready to provide the leadership that was lacking on the Chiefs' shaky defense.
"I definitely bring intensity and a passion for the game," he said. "And also I think I bring in all the character things. I love working in the community. I love being a great guy to people."
That's what led him to the equipment room on Friday nights.
"I really just wanted to help the guys out, and really get a sense and an appreciation," he said. "The managers we have on our team, they work so hard, and I just wanted to put myself in their shoes so I could appreciate what they do for me."
The Chiefs have two picks in the second round, overall No. 36 and No. 50.