January 4, 2007

Berry's crash course at corner

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Fairburn (Ga.) Creekside star Eric Berry is ranked as the nation's No. 1 cornerback. At 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds with sub 4.4-second speed, Berry has everything college and NFL coaches dream about when it comes to a shutdown corner. However, there's just one minor problem. Berry has been playing cornerback for exactly three days now.

"I've played safety and obviously quarterback but this is the first time I've played cornerback," said Berry, who is switching between cornerback and safety for the East team at the U.S. Army All American Bowl practices. "It's a learning process for me and I'm trying to soak up as much as I can."

One might think that the No. 5 player in the country wouldn't think he needs to learn much on the field. In fact, if Berry was all about flash and the spotlight you certainly couldn't blame him with all the attention he gets. But Berry is the exact opposite.

"He's just a great kid who wants to get better and learn," said East defensive coordinator Scott Burton from Richmond (Va.) Highland Springs. "And Eric is very coachable. In situations like these all-star games you don't know what to expect but Eric and all of the defensive backs have been great and have listened."

Burton saw Berry's potential from the first time he saw him on the field.

"Eric Berry is one of the most instinctual players I've been around," said Burton, who is also coaching the defensive backs for the East. "He had about five interceptions on the first day and they were all instinct. He just has a feeling about where the play is going and where he needs to be."

Burton was shocked that Berry had never played cornerback before.

"I mean, you can see he has a lot of work to do on his technique and he's very raw, but I never would have thought he'd never played the position before he arrived here," Burton said. "He picks things up quickly and really listens which is why he'll be a great player at the next level. I think Eric could be a very good cornerback but he'd be an all-world safety."

Berry will be playing one of the two positions at Tennessee.

"They told me I could play where I wanted so I picked cornerback because I think my size will help," he said. "They said I could play quarterback if I wanted to but I want to play on special teams and defense as well and I know I wouldn't be able do both in college. They've never seen me at cornerback but they projected me there as well. I'm exciting about learning it."

And Berry is taking in everything he can from Burton.

"He's coached some very good cornerbacks," said Berry of Burton, who coached five-star cornerback Victor Harris (Virginia Tech) a few years ago and four-star cornerback Cris Hill (Virginia Tech commitment) and three star corner C.J. Fleming (Tennessee) this year. "He's helped me work on things like controlling my arms in my backpedal to make it smoother and he has a technique that allows you to keep an eye on the wideout while also keeping the quarterback in your peripheral vision. He knows a lot so I'm just trying to learn."

Burton is surprised at the level of commitment on his cornerback.

"Eric and Marcus Gilchrist came up to me on Tuesday and they asked me if I coached Cris and C.J. the same way I am coaching them," said Burton. "I told them that it's the same principal and technique so they asked me to come with them to break down some film of Cris and C.J. to see how they did things. They figured there was no better way to learn than to watch a couple of players who have been doing it for awhile now. I was really impressed with that, these guys are always thinking about getting better."

For Berry, playing cornerback is becoming a bit more comfortable.

"It's good to get some experience," he said. "I know I have a long, long way to go before I'm ready, but this is a good first step and I'm looking forward to taking this with me to Tennessee."

"He's such a nice kid," said Burton. "I joke around with all of my guys and I was busting on Eric for being ranked as the top cornerback in the country. I told him he'd see the best cornerback when he met C.J. at Tennessee. He just cracked up and smiled. He has no ego and that's going to be a huge asset for him in college."

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