Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What Can Berry Do For You?

At this point it may seem like I am lobbying for Eric Berry and perhaps I am. But the thing of it is, I want the Bucs to be successful, and THAT'S why I would like to see him on the team. But regardless of whether he is a Buccaneer or not I think maybe fans out there would like to know why I am so high on him and what he can do for a defense.

The thing to know about Eric Berry is that he is very versatile. Last year at Tennessee he played almost every position on defense aside from defensive line. He is physical when he is in the box and he is fluid with good ball skills when he is covering the back line. He is also good covering tight ends and slot receivers in one on one situations. He also is one of the best blitzers from the secondary that I have seen coming out of college football in some time. So what does that translate into when he is on your defense?

First of all it means that you won't have to substitute as much. Many times offenses will use personnel as well as formations to try to dictate what the defense is going to do. When your safeties aren't good in coverage then you end up having to take out a linebacker and put in an extra corner when an offense goes to a three wide receiver set most of the time. That makes you a lot more vulnerable to that team running the ball against what essentially becomes only 6 people in the box. When you have a guy like Berry however you can match him up on the slot receiver, keep all three linebackers in the game and still be stout against the run with 7 in the box.

Second of all some teams will put in an extra tight end along with a fullback at times to give the appearance of running the ball down hill at the defense only to go play action pass. The Saints in particular use this set quite a bit and it has been very effective for them. Now a defense that doesn't have a physical safety may elect to take someone out of the back line and put in an extra defensive lineman to match up against the offense's heavy personnel. But if you have a guy like Eric Berry, again you can keep basically your regular personnel in the game and be more sound against both the run and the pass.

Third of all when your team is in a division where there are several talented tight ends, you are going to need to have a safety that matches up well with them or you end up having to double them lest they burn you up and down the field. Berry has been a corner early in his career at Tennessee and he still has corner's feet. You can single him up on most tight ends and he has enough size and quickness to cover them down the field and he is physical enough to tackle them should they actually make the catch. And if you aren't doubling the tight end then that free another guy up to cover underneath routes which makes your pass defense more fundamentally sound.

Fourth of all a lot of the better running teams nowadays set up their blocking schemes so that they double team the inside guys up front, get up on the linebackers late, and leave the free hitter, usually the safety, unblocked and tell the running back that the free hitter is his guy. What that means is they try to make sure that they get enough push up front without pentration (a philosophy that I happen to endorse) that the running back can get a full head of steam before he sees contact and when he does see contact its going to be one one one, him and the safety, and he either has to juke the guy and or run over him and if he can do that then he will get big yardage. Sometimes its not enough that your safety can get the guy down after a 5 or 6 yard gain in those situations. Sometimes you are going to need a thumper who actually punishes the running back for even considering trying to run them over. Eric Berry is the kind of safety who likes to thump people all over the field.

Now those are the kinds of things that you can do in terms of reacting (or not reacting) to what and offense is trying to do, but having a guy like Berry also opens up the playbook for the things a defensive coordinator might want to do to dictate to an offense.

If you want to have a defense that blitzes a lot then you are going to need to have corners and at least one safety who can cover. Having Berry on your team allows you to go with more man blitzes with confidence that you won't give up the big play because your safety ends up in a mismatch. Also because he is such a good blitzer you can use him to confuse the opposing quarterback on where to set the protection. Using the Bucs as an example for years and years we have almost exclusively used Ronde Barber to blitz on third down. Last season we saw that when the Bucs tried to use other DBs to blitz it didn't turn out so well. Now if you line up Ronde on one side and Berry on the other, the center can be sure which way to slide and that will open things up so that we can get pressure on the quarterback and force them into mistakes.

In addition to all those things Eric Berry has a ton of range and great ball skills, exactly what you need in a safety if you play a lot of Tampa 2. He just ran a could of mid 4.4s at the combine which shows you he has track speed. But he is also a very instinctive player and if you watch him on film you can see him breaking on balls almost before the quarterback even begins to throw it. Considering how many times our corners got beat on deep balls last year, getting a guy who can help over the top you would think would be a high priority.

Of course if one of the big defensive tackles are still on the board I expect the Bucs will have to take them, but even then I am not so sure that it would be the right move. I know a lot of analysts aren't saying this but both Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy running mid to high 4.9s in the 40 is underwhelming compared to how they have both been sold. Don't get me wrong, there is no discounting what both guys did on the field this year, but if you are going to tell me that a guy is going to be the best defensive lineman in the last 20 years or so then Im going to need for him to run at least a 4.8 if not better. Big Daddy Dan Wilkenson who really WAS a freak of nature ran a 4.7 back in the day. Our very own Warren Sapp was also a freak of nature who ran a 4.6. A 4.9 isn't terrible but it isn't earth shattering either. And when you get down to it, while both guys will help whichever teams they go to, how much will a defensive coordinator be able to add to their playbook just because they have them on their team?

I can tell you right now, not much.

Now I don't want to make it seem like Eric Berry is the second coming, but the guy is a damned good football player and having him on your team allows you to do a lot more things than normal. Just look at the Steelers with Troy Polomalu. When he got hurt their defensive coordinator was limited in what he could call. But when he was able to play you saw how much more aggressive they could play as a defense. I truly believe that while Berry and Polomalu are some what different kinds of players, he could have a similar impact on any defense that he plays on.

And I for one continue to hope that that team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


  1. I agree that Berry is a great prospect, and I certainly wouldn't be disappointed with him being drafted by the Bucs.

    But couldn't McCoy or Suh change the entire defense by dominating the defensive line, creating more pressure than the Bucs got the past year? Wouldn't that allow the Bucs to do a lot more in coverage too?

  2. @Sander

    The answer is an emphatic maybe. The truth is no defensive tackle in recent years has come into the league and made much noise in their rookie season with the exception of Tommie Harris who was always more hype than anything else in my opinion. Both guys are going to be good players in my opinion but I am not sold on the notion that either will be dominant pass rushers their first couple of years. Even in a best case scenario however at most maybe they allow you to call fewer blitzes than you normally would but keep in mind that with an interior lineman the easist thing in the world to do is just to slide the center to them so that they are constantly double teamed. Even the best pass rushing defensive tackles have a hard time defeating that. And it still doesn't really solve the problems against the run per se.