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Moving Forward Without Eric Berry

Posted Sep 13, 2011

Replacing Berry will take a team-wide effort

When it comes to moving forward from the loss of Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, after he played just four defensive snaps in 2011, I think Todd Haley said it best.

“I believe (replacing Berry) is not going to be just one person,” said the head coach. “I think it’s going be every special teams player, every defensive player, every offensive player that will have to elevate their game to kind of counterbalance the loss of a pretty neat, great kid that I think is going to be a great player in the league.”

Players like Berry can’t be replaced. You might find ingredients, but the meal doesn’t turn out the same. You’re not going to find a backup on the Chiefs roster that can do what Berry does. There isn’t a street free agent capable of completely filling Berry’s role.

Eric Berry is a rare type of athlete. He’s one of those special kinds of football players.

So where do the Chiefs go from here? They’ve lost a team captain and a difference maker, but there are still at least 15 games to play and Sunday isn’t getting any further away.

“Injuries happen in football,” teammate Kendrick Lewis said. “The next guy comes in and has to step up. We can’t miss a beat.”

Kansas City is likely to add another safety before practices begin this week. Berry still hasn’t officially gone to injured reserve, but a roster move is imminent.

There are a handful of available free agents with starting experience, but the best option for immediate bandage might come from someone already familiar with the Chiefs defensive system. Reshard Langford and Ricky Price have previously been part of the Chiefs 53-man roster, losing out on tight training camp battles for reserve positions in the secondary this training camp.

The route the Chiefs choose to take in filling the roster slot created by Berry’s season-ending injury doesn’t particularly matter. Berry can’t be replaced via a one-for-one personnel switch. Haley pointed to a collective team effort making up for the loss of the team leader, and he’s completely right.

Defensively, there isn’t a player that can be inserted into Berry’s role and be asked to perform at the same level. Premier talent doesn’t grow on trees. A pond of young Pro Bowlers aren’t available for fishing, especially in September.

Moving forward, Romeo Crennel has quite the challenge in front of him when scripting defensive game plans for the remainder of the season. He, and the rest of the Chiefs defensive staff, must figure out the best way to adapt with different personnel.

Keep in mind that we’ve never seen Crennel put together a defensive game plan without Berry being involved. Berry played every defensive snap last season and, in 2009, neither he nor Crennel were with the organization.

A true game plan defense, the script has been known to change from week to week. Last season, when visiting the Colts, the Chiefs operated almost exclusively out nickel personnel that featured Jon McGraw at the linebacker level. We’ve actually seen a carry-over of that package into the 2011 season.

“No matter who the opponent was throughout the preseason or against Buffalo, (the Chiefs) had extra safeties on the field as part of their scheme,” Voice of the Chiefs Mitch Holthus said when analyzing the safety situation on Chiefs LIVE! “Even with Berry on the field next to Lewis, McGraw would be on the field as kind of a nickel back. Coming into the season they had plans for using multiple safeties.”

Maybe the schematic changes won’t be drastic. A younger, unproven player could always surprise. But however it happens, replacing Berry is going to take a collective effort.

On Sunday, McGraw replaced Berry in the base sets. Sabby Piscitelli replaced Berry in sub-packages. McGraw often stayed on the field for both.

“Now we’ll see if Romeo has to adjust from that,” Holthus said. “They’re playing a team this week that plays out of a three tight end set. Last week, against Tampa Bay, (Detroit) played out of a three tight end/one running back set which puts even more of a burden on your safeties because they’re tight ends are good.”

There’s an opportunity for hybrid defensive backs going forward as well. Both Donald Washington and Jalil Brown were healthy inactives on Sunday and could see more game action going forward.

On another note…one thing I try to keep from doing is making apples to oranges comparisons. But for a number of reasons, I can’t get the 2003 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots out of my head.

Aside from being embarrassed 31-0 by Buffalo in the Week One “Lawyer Milloy Bowl,” the Patriots had to deal with an outbreak of injuries throughout the early portions of the 2003 season.

Injuries were such a problem that the Patriots switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme at midseason because of personnel losses. Injuries hit 15 key contributors over the first three weeks of the season. Crennel, of course, was New England’s defensive coordinator at the time.

That Patriots team was in a much different place than the Chiefs are in 2011. For starters, the Patriots were coming off a Super Bowl championship in 2001 and had a core group of players remaining from that championship run.

Apples and oranges indeed, but the Patriots were still able to adapt to the hand that was unexpectedly dealt. They answered on offense, defense and special teams.

Successfully moving forward from Berry’s injury will require a team-wide effort.

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