Chiefs’ Eric Berry refining his game

04/25/2014 11:32 PM

04/25/2014 11:32 PM

In many ways, it’s been a typical offseason for Chiefs safety Eric Berry.

He’s been training in South Florida, like he always does. He’s been spending time with family, like he always does.

But Berry, a three-time Pro Bowler who turns 26 this year, says he’s made one adjustment to his offseason workouts.

“It’s getting to that point, that age where I’m getting that grown-man strength that guys talk about,” Berry said with a laugh. “So my thing is just working a little bit smarter, focusing more on my technique.”

For instance, he said, he’s not just trying to backpedal fast when training now, he’s also trying to make sure he backpedals low and comes out his break the way he’s supposed to. It may sound like a small thing — and for the record, it is.

But after the Chiefs’ devastating 45-44 first-round AFC playoff loss in January, when Berry was beaten in coverage a handful of times, he seems determined to refine his game entering his fifth year.

“Anything that helps my coverage and stuff like that (is good),” Berry said. “I feel like that’s a big part (of what) they put on me, to cover guys. I’ve got to make sure I’m on point with that stuff.”

Berry’s desire to improve his coverage ability makes sense, especially with all the acclaim Seattle free safety Earl Thomas earned during the Seahawks’ run to the postseason.

Thomas, who is relied upon to cover tons of ground and serve as a ball hawk in the Seahawks’ single-high scheme, is asked to do different things than Berry, who primarily played in the box last year and covered tight ends and played the run.

But with the offseason departure of Kendrick Lewis, last year’s starter at free safety, there are options at the position — including veteran Husain Abdullah and 2013 fifth-round pick Sanders Commings — but no guaranteed starter.

When Berry, who was taken seven spots ahead of Thomas in the 2010 draft, was asked this week if he would campaign to get a chance to play free safety like Thomas does, he paused for a split second before answering.

“Um one of the things I like to do is take things from different people’s games,” Berry began. “I see the praise and the accolades that other safeties around the league get, but at the same time, I can’t be concerned with that because for a fact, I know I can do that ― I’ve done that in the past.

“But (for) where my team needs me, that’s what I’m doing. And there’s not a lot of guys at my position that can do what I do. There’s a lot of guys that can’t blitz, there’s a lot of guys that can’t cover tight ends, there’s a lot of guys that can’t cover the deep middle. I just happen to be one of the guys that can do all that.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid was also asked this week if Berry — who has cap numbers of $11.6 million this season and $8.4 million next year, both of which are expensive for a strong safety — will get a chance to play free safety this year.

“To me, safeties are interchangeable,” Reid said. “You have to find the right guys. Eric is a Pro Bowl football player, a very good football player. He’s flexible. He can easily go back there and play deep, he can easily play up at the line of scrimmage, and he’s a heck of a player.”

Reid’s answer wasn’t a no, but it wasn’t a yes, either. The likely translation? Berry will play back there in coverage occasionally, just like last season.

“It’s important that we get everything around him the way we need to get it around him,” Reid continued. “We have some people there that we think are pretty good football players that can do that.”

For the record, Reid said Abdullah, who played well in spot duty last season, will get the first crack at the position. And the team remains high on Commings, despite an injury-plagued rookie year.

However, Berry said roles still haven’t been discussed yet, and he added that he learned a lot from Lewis, who was criticized roundly by fans for his play down the stretch but was respected by teammates for his ability to make calls and adjustments before each snap.

“I’m pretty much ready for whatever comes my way,” Berry said. “I feel like he taught me enough to where I can handle (free safety).

“I feel like he’s one of the smartest guys, just knowing football knowledge and (having) football IQ, and I think that’s rubbed off on me a lot and I’m very thankful for that. He taught me how to think, like way before the play happens.

“I felt like Kendrick was one of the guys that could tell everybody what they needed to do in the secondary and sometimes the front seven before the ball was snapped. I thought it was amazing because a lot of times, a lot of people couldn’t even get one call out, and he was able to call this side, that side and sometimes the front seven. That’s a gift.”

But even if he doesn’t get a shot at free safety, Berry says he’s OK with the way he’s been used, because he does believe his skill-set is unique, though it might not necessarily be in vogue right now.

“Some people think a lot of people think it’s a gift and curse just because I don’t get all the praise,” Berry said. “But I’m cool with that, as long as we’re winning games and making playoff runs. So if we keep doing that, I’m straight.”

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