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Back in Knoxville

Posted Oct 5, 2010

Rookie Eric Berry remembers Peyton Manning's off-season visits to UT

As the week pushes forward, you’re likely to hear more and more discussion about Peyton Manning versus the Chiefs young safeties. The storyline is an easy one, featuring Kansas City and Indianapolis teams that seem to be polar opposites of one another.

The Colts love to throw the ball around the yard (2nd in NFL), while the Chiefs prefer a punishing run game (3rd in NFL). Indianapolis struggles against the run (29th in NFL), while the dent in Kansas City’s defensive armor is its passing defense (25th in NFL). The Colts score a ton of points (29.3 ppg; 2nd in NFL), while the Chiefs don’t let teams into the end zone very often (12.7 ppg; 2nd in NFL).

Something has to give on Sunday.

When looking at each of the team trends, it difficult not to focus on the matchup that offers a future Hall of Fame quarterback versus the future of Kansas City’s defense. Colts signal-caller Peyton Manning has thrown 6,703 passes over his 13-year NFL career. Kansas City’s rookie safeties, Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis, have combined to see roughly 100 NFL throws.

Berry and Lewis have been on the field for roughly 90% of the Chiefs defensive snaps to date. The number is high, partially because of Jon McGraw’s hamstring injury, and then partially due to the first-year development of each player, their overall talent level and the Chiefs defensive scheme.

Most thought that it would one day be Berry and Lewis patrolling the Chiefs back line, but not everyone believed that such an extensive commitment to the pair would occur this soon.

If the Chiefs first three games are any indication, the youth movement at safety is in full stride. Though the rest of the secondary and the front seven will play key roles in successfully defending the Indianapolis pass, the “veteran quarterback vs. rookie defender” take will get the most play.

As the case has been throughout 2010, Berry and Lewis will have veteran DBs like McGraw and Travis Daniels to pull suggestions from. McGraw and Daniels are the only members of the Chiefs secondary to have ever faced off against Manning and the Colts.

Obviously, the Chiefs coaching staff has plenty of experience game-planning against Indy, but from a player perspective, particularly those in the secondary, there isn’t much experience in dealing with the Colts.

Neither Brandon Flowers nor Brandon Carr has ever gone up against Manning and, outside of McGraw and Daniels, the rest of the secondary is either a rookie or a first-year player. Ironically, Berry is one with some of the most experience in seeing Manning in action.

“He always came back to UT and did 7-on-7 with us,” Berry said. “He always did that to get ready for the season and help us get ready, so we know each other pretty well.”

It almost sounds Farve-esque, but NFL veterans gearing up for the season on their former college campus isn’t that odd of an occurrence. Some of the Chiefs’ LSU crew goes and works out in Baton Rouge during the off-season, while Derrick Johnson has talked about getting workouts in Austin workouts.

For Manning, the competition in Tennessee offers a respectable level of competition and receiving targets that may one day be in NFL camps. For Berry, and the rest of those in the Vols program, Manning’s offseason visits to Knoxville represented a chance to compete with the best and also provided an up-close view of NFL stardom.

Manning’s visits to Knoxville were a source of inspiration and motivation for Berry’s NFL aspirations.

“Guys got a lot of experience from him and a lot of knowledge from him,” Berry said. “It’s always good to see someone who went to your school previously and it’s good to see them come back. It always helps and it’s pretty cool.

“I Love him,” Berry continued. “He’s a great quarterback. He takes control of his offense and his team. In any situation, he always competes and that’s the only thing that you can ask for.

From the sounds of things, Manning took over during his visits to Knoxville. The personnel involved and the offensive systems in place didn’t matter; when Peyton came to town, things clicked for the Vols offense.

“Every time he came back to UT, we had three different offensive coordinators in the three years that I was there; the wide receivers would have different plays and stuff like that.” Berry said. “But for some reason, every time he came back it like they were on one accord clicking on all cylinders. It was pretty cool to see that.”

Berry got plenty of reps against Manning in the non-padded workouts. He probably made some plays in the process and got beat a few times as well. Berry did say, however, that he definitely learned one thing about Manning that he’ll carry into Sunday’s game…

 “Don’t bite on the pump-fake,” Berry laughed.

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