A simple question led to a simple, yet, interesting, answer.
There’s just something about the way that Kansas City Chiefs veteran safety Eric Berry speaks that has the words he uses, which when uttered by most anyone else just don’t carry the same weight, force you to stand up and pay attention.
Maybe it’s because it’s coming from a man who beat cancer and returned to an All-Pro level in less than a year, or because he’s established himself as one of the NFL’s premier players in spite of everything he’s had to overcome, which also includes a missed season because of a torn ACL suffered early in 2011.
But in any case, when Berry speaks, people listen, and the words are taken to heart.
So, when asked about the moves made this offseason by Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach, who has routinely spoken of adding defensive guys with a certain attitude or an edge to their game, Berry was adamantly on board.
“My defensive backs’ coach is Emmitt Thomas, and he played in some of the greatest games that were ever played here,” Berry explained of Thomas—the Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive backs’ coach and Chiefs’ legend who still holds the franchise record for most career interceptions (58). “So, there’s a lot of history—a lot of tradition. He was on a great defense and he tells me about his teammates, and he had some tough cats on his teams back then.
“And just talking about that edge about the guys they brought in (this offseason), and we can’t really compare ourselves to the guys back then, but that edge you see when you watch those old highlights of the Chiefs, I think some of these guys have that.”
Now, the Chiefs’ 1969 Super Bowl Championship defense, which included Thomas and four other Pro Football Hall of Famers in Curley Culp, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell, allowed an average of just 11.6 points per game over their 17 games that season, including just 20 points total in the three playoff games, which still sits as the third-fewest ever allowed by a Super Bowl participant (1985 Bears-10 points, 1971 Cowboys-18 points).
They are one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and a group that’s largely underrated and not even close to being mentioned enough in that conversation.
So, Berry’s statement regarding the attitude of the new guys brought over was a big one, and those words mean something—even though it wasn’t a comparison of talent between the teams, which wouldn’t be fair.
These guys here haven’t even thrown on pads and got to real football yet, but there’s still weight behind the words because of who said it and in the context of talking with a legend like Thomas, who could speak about those guys from experience.
This offseason, the Chiefs brought in standout cornerback Kendall Fuller in a trade with the Washington Redskins that sent over quarterback Alex Smith, which also netted them a third-round pick, which they used to trade up and take Ole Miss pass-rushing chess piece Breeland Speaks, who definitely has that edge.
They also signed two of the top run-stuffing defensive players available in free agency at their respective positions in linebacker Anthony Hitchens and defensive lineman Xavier Williams.
The selections in the draft after Speaks fit this mold as well, highlighted by Florida State run-stuffing defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, who was taken with their second pick and called one of the most physically-imposing trench guys available in this draft.
“If they’re here, I know they can play,” Berry explained of working with the new guys and his impressions. “I know that they have talent and I’ve seen (fourth-round pick) Armani (Watts) play back at Texas A&M because they played against Tennessee (his alma mater and where his brothers were both Seniors last year).
“I was actually at the game so I’m very excited about that. And right now, we just want to win.”
“We know we’re going to put in the work and put in the time,” Berry added of being out there working at OTAs. “But just seeing the faces and seeing the enthusiasm, some days you might not be feeling it but if you look across the ball and see (Patrick Mahomes), (Kareem Hunt) or (Tyreek Hill), they’ve got a lot of energy and they’re coming in and they’re bringing it, and vice versa.
“If we are bringing it and they’re not really up to it at the moment, we just feed off each other and just push through it.”
The individual impact of having Berry himself back on the field shouldn’t be lost either.
Since 2013, the Chiefs are 38-16 when Berry is on the field and just 15-11 when he’s not out there, which included all but one game last season after he went down for the season because of an Achilles injury suffered late in the Week 1 win over the New England Patriots.
Berry has earned a Pro Bowl berth every healthy year of his career.
“It’s great to have him out here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of getting him back on the field for OTAs. “He’s one of our leaders. It’s great to have him healthy. He’s flying around doing a great job.”
Berry, who added that he’s healthy and feeling good, said having to watch last year wasn’t easy, but that he found other ways to help.
“You can make an impact even when you’re not playing,” Berry explained. “You can still be in-tune to the game plan and in-tune to the situations that are happening. I have a lot of experience now, this is my ninth year. There are a lot of guys that are younger than me that can learn from what I know.
“So, even with the young guys, I just keep spilling in knowledge to them because I know it’s going to help us as a team.”
Players and coaches working during OTA's on Thursday.
As one would expect from a guy like Berry, he doesn’t have a waiting period to dispense the info he’s attained throughout his career to the younger guys
“I’m dedicated to this team and if you’re a part of this team, I’m dedicated to you,” Berry added. “That’s just how I roll…I know my teammates are dependent on me and I'm dependent on them. It’s more of an accountability thing just to handle my business and make sure I’m ready to go just to make sure we can all do what we came here to do.”
The moves they made and getting a talent back like Berry, as well as edge rusher Dee Ford, who missed most of last season because of a back injury, should help propel this group forward.
“We need to have our best season as a defensive unit,” Berry concluded. “We need to go out there and have fun, create turnovers, and make stops—just play good defense.”