Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Tennessee junior safety Eric Berry is not only the best defensive player in the SEC. He's also one of the league's most engaging personalities.
He's witty, candid, always pleasant -- and real.
He dodges questions the way he does ball-carriers. He doesn't.
Tennessee is promoting him this season for the Heisman Trophy. See Berry4heisman.com. He's a long shot to win it. After all, defensive players don't win that award.
Yeah, right. Try telling that to the folks on Rocky Top.
Who knows how everything will play out this season, but Berry is easily one of college football's elite players.
With the Vols kicking off preseason practice Tuesday, here are a few of Berry's thoughts on a wide array of topics:
On whether he copies other players?
Eric Berry: I watch a lot of film on a lot of safeties. When you see my game, it's from a lot of different people I've watched -- Reshad Jones, Major Wright, Ahmad Black. I watch a lot of those guys. I try to get as many things as I can from as many different people as I can.
EB: I put a lot of pressure on myself, which a lot of people don't understand. I go in every offseason like I'm an incoming freshman trying to regain my spot. I'm always working and trying to get things done. I'll let those other guys deal with all the Heisman campaign and everything like that. I just deal with what I can deal with.
On being the Vols' unquestioned leader?
EB: They look up to me, but I look up to them. We feed off each other. Some days, I don't feel like coming to workouts. I admit. But my teammates push me so much and say, 'You can't do that. We're depending on you.' It's all about being accountable.
On Tennessee assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron and his penchant for consuming Red Bulls?
EB: He probably drinks about three in the morning. I'm not sure. The thing is that he has coffee, too. That's what messes it up. When you have coffee and Red Bull, I don't think that's a good combination. You can't stay away from him. You're going to hear him. He's going to be screaming somewhere.
On how disappointing last season was?
EB: Things just didn't roll our way last year. Some things were going on that I really can't put my finger on. I don't know what it was. Right now, we're just focusing on this season and getting everything back into perspective and get Tennessee back to where we need to be.
On his younger brother, Evan, who's 13 and already committed to Tennessee?
EB: Evan is very mature. He reminds me a lot of myself. Once he makes his mind up to do something, then that's what he's going to do. I was in high school and he was 8 years old, and he was working out with me. I know his kind of mindset and I know what he wants to do with his life, and coming to Tennessee is one of them.
On freshman running back Bryce Brown?
EB: He's natural with his movement in the open field. He has great hands also. He could play wide receiver, to be honest with you. He's exceptionally fast considering how big he is. He's a solid guy. We haven't hit yet, but you can feel it when you put your hands on him or jam him off the line. He's a very solid guy.
On seeing former defensive coordinator John Chavis now at LSU?
EB: I'm glad to see him coaching again. It was kind of tough to see him go there. I was like, 'Man, why couldn't you go to the ACC or somewhere like that?' But knowing Coach Chavis, he loves this competition in the SEC and wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
On who will be the sleeper this season for the Vols?
EB: (Cornerback) Art Evans. Watch. He's going to break out.
On how he got into watching tape?
EB: My mom used to record my games in Little League. At first, I'd look at them and try to see my good plays. Then I started looking at other things, like if I had cut back this way, I could have gotten to the house. That's how it started.
On his best hit at Tennessee?
EB: I'll have to say when I hit Anthony Dixon from Mississippi State (last season). I shocked myself. He's 240 and there was nowhere we could go. It was a little hole. I couldn't run from him or go for his legs or jump out of the hole, not that I would, but there was nowhere to go. I just had to hit him, and it was one of the best hits that I've had.
On the Vols being able to bounce back in 2009?
EB: As long as we stay focused and keep working like we've been working, I'm very excited about what we can do this season.
On following in the footsteps of his father, James Berry, and playing at Tennessee?
EB: It was a big deal seeing how much love my dad got when he came back to school and how the fans still remembered him. I just wanted the same thing. Those Tennessee fans are true fans no matter what. We were 5-7 last year, but they were still coming to games and having a good time. I wouldn't want to play anywhere else but here.