Around this time a little over a year ago, Chiefs safety Eric Berry was back home in Fairburn, Ga., preparing to deal with the biggest challenge of his young life — beating Hodgkin lymphoma.
Less than seven months later he was back on the football field. And on Tuesday he received news that not only affirmed that he is back but that he is back in a big way.
The league announced that Berry is one of five Chiefs who have been selected to the Pro Bowl, along with cornerback Marcus Peters, outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, and tight end Travis Kelce.
The Pro Bowl game will be Jan. 31 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
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Berry’s latest Pro Bowl nod is his fourth. The 26-year-old has played in all 14 games this season, logging 58 tackles, eight passes defensed and four interceptions.
“I think E.B. has had a great year,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said recently. “Since the time I came with coach (Andy) Reid, I think it’s the best football he’s played. He’s made some unbelievable plays. ... He’s really given us a lot of range back there. He covers a lot of ground.
“As we’ve talked in the past, a year ago he didn’t get to practice, he didn’t practice at training camp, he hurt the ankle the second game, and obviously he had to deal with the major illness. He’s just coming back to, I think, to where he really can. ... I’m excited for him. It’s really thrilling just to watch.”
But Berry isn’t the only Chiefs defensive back to make the Pro Bowl. He will be joined in Hawaii by Peters, who leads the Chiefs with seven interceptions, one more than the team managed all of last season.
Peters has racked up 23 passes defensed, which is the most on the team, a club rookie record and the second-most in the league. His seven interceptions are tied for second all-time among Chiefs rookies and tied for second in the NFL. His 234 interception return yards are tops in the league, and he’s tied for the team league in defensive touchdowns with two.
“The rookies at about this time in the year, they’re kind of working through that wall, that rookie wall where their (college) season’s over, and they’re resting up for bowl games and all of those things,” Reid recently said about Peters. “He’s pushing through that and doing a good job with it.
“He’s a competitive kid. He’s having a good year.”
Peters is the first Chiefs rookie to earn Pro Bowl honors since Berry did the same in 2010. He is one of three rookies to make the Pro Bowl this year, along with Seattle receiver Tyler Lockett and St. Louis running back Todd Gurley.
Hali, 32, was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fifth straight season. He has logged 48 tackles (11 for loss), 6 1/2 sacks and 18 quarterback pressures in 14 starts this season despite a balky knee that has required rest during the practice week.
Houston, 26, delivered on a massive six-year, $101 million contract he signed this offseason, recording 7 1/2 sacks and two interceptions in 11 games before a hyperextended knee injury kept him out the last three contests.
Although Berry, Hali and Houston are all multitime Pro Bowlers, Kelce — a third-year pro — joins Peters as a first-time selection. In his first year as the undisputed No. 1 tight end starter, Kelce, 26, has logged 65 catches for 822 yards and four touchdowns. He ranks fifth in the NFL in receiving yards among tight ends.
With five Pro Bowl selections, the Chiefs managed to top the number of selections (four) they had last year, but they also had a handful of players who are having very nice seasons yet are being left off the list.
Headlining that group is inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, who has a team-high 100 tackles (eight for loss), seven passes defensed, four sacks and two interceptions in his first year back from a season-ending Achilles injury.
Also, Jeremy Maclin has provided some much-needed juice to the receiving corps after signing a five-year, $55 million free-agent deal in the offseason.
After the Chiefs went all of 2014 without getting a single touchdown from a wide receiver, Maclin has scored six and caught 79 passes for 985 yards. He’s poised to become the Chiefs’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Dwayne Bowe in 2011.