When Eric Berry arrived at the Chiefs’ training facility on Sunday, the first group he ran into was the quarterbacks. And that’s how he knew he was back home, finally.
“I always run into the quarterbacks for some reason when I’m out of the building and I come back,” Berry said with a laugh.
Berry, who signed his $10.8 million franchise tender Sunday after skipping the first four weeks of the preseason after he and the team failed to agree to a long-term deal, also saw the equipment manager, Allen Wright, and ran the gauntlet from there.
That included a sitdown conversation with coach Andy Reid, who later mentioned that Berry had a smile on his face during the meeting. That smile was also present for the duration of Berry’s five-minute news conference on Monday, when he made it clear he’s already put the business side of the game aside in 2016.
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“Once I step foot in this building — and everybody in this building knows me — I’m about business,” Berry said. “I’m going to handle my business like a professional, and outside of that, I’m gonna give you everything I’ve got, every snap. So regardless of whatever happened in the offseason, that’s the offseason. Right now it’s time to get down to business and play ball.”
Berry said this earnestly, while also mentioning how much he missed his teammates — “especially the DBs,” he said. His attitude is impressive, especially after an offseason in which he watched two younger, slightly less-accomplished safeties — Minnesota’s Harrison Smith and Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu — receive the type of long-term deals the 27-year-old Berry, who has two more Pro Bowls (four) than those two combined (two), had been seeking.
That’s why Berry, the NFL’s reigning comeback player of the year, skipped training camp. He couldn’t be forced to attend because he technically wasn’t under contract, and he will still collect the same salary this season by signing the tender when he did. It is standard practice for franchise-tagged players, although one Berry stopped short of saying made him comfortable.
“It is what it is,” Berry said. “It’s a different situation — I’ve never been a part of that. But at the end of the day, I know that my teammates, my coaches, we’re all in it together. We’re going to keep working, we’re going to keep pushing forward to reach our ultimate goal.
“I’m here, and I’m gonna give everything in my power to give everything I’ve got.”
When asked Monday if he was surprised the two sides couldn’t get a deal done, Berry shrugged. It was a departure from his stance a little over a month ago, when he admitted — about a week prior to the franchise-extension deadline — that he was “a bit” surprised a deal had not been hammered out.
“People don’t agree on a lot of things in life, period — that’s just a part of it,” Berry said. “I just didn’t agree with it, and the other side didn’t agree with it. But at the end of the day, we all want to win games. That’s the part we agree on, and we feel like we have a chance, so we’re just gonna keep pushing forward to get that done.”
To that end, Berry says he has a little work to do get ready for the Chiefs’ season opener against the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 11. It wasn’t for a lack of offseason effort, though, as Berry said he spent August training, with a few speaking engagements mixed in, and even worked out at the same time of the Chiefs’ camp practices, in an effort to get his body somewhat accustomed to the grind.
“I tried to simulate things toward the way practice was structured and the way the game is structured,” Berry said. “I just tried to do everything I could, on my end, to make sure when I came here, it would be (a) smooth transition.”
And while Berry is confident he’ll be ready for the Chargers game — “I’m confident in that,” he said — he expects his biggest challenge to be getting the rust knocked off and reacquainted to NFL speed.
“You try to fill it in with high school players and other people that’s just around training, but it’s different when you have 11 guys on the field that know what they’re doing and know where to be,” Berry said. “Things tend to move a little faster.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton agreed, noting that getting Berry’s reaction time back to normal will be the No. 1 priority, since Sutton doesn’t consider conditioning to be an issue.
“He’s been in the system for four years … fortunately, you’ve got a guy that’s played a lot of plays in his life,” Sutton said. “I really don’t think it will be that big of an adjustment for him. We plan to, as long as he feels good, (we’ll) get him in there as much as he can go and let him become comfortable and get that reaction and change-of-direction (down).”
To that end, Berry — who said he watched the Chiefs’ first three preseason games — says he returned to Kansas City with a list full of questions for secondary coaches Emmitt Thomas and Al Harris, just because he noticed a few things have changed in camp.
“Watching on TV and watching the film copy, I had a few questions,” Berry said. “They cleared that up for me. And just going through the walk-through this morning, it looks like everything is pretty good to go.”
Afterward Sutton was happy to report the same thing that Reid said Sunday, and Berry tried to relay on Monday — that No. 29 was back, and happy, and ready to help this team get to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly 50 years.
“I just can’t imagine anybody in the National Football League that has a better outlook on the opportunity to play than him, because of what he’s been through,” said Sutton, who continues to wear a red Berry Strong rubber wristband, a remnant from Berry’s bout with lymphoma two winters ago.
“I just think he’s going to be excited to go back out here and do what he really loves to do — we just gotta hope it works the way we think it can. There may be some bumps in the road, but I’m pretty confident he can do this.”
And Berry is, too. When asked if he still as invested in the Chiefs as he was before — both as a leader and football player — Berry flashed another grin, revealing his happiness at simply being back in the field.
“Always,” Berry said with a chuckle. “That’s in my DNA. I can’t change that.”