Is Safety Eric Berry Of Tennessee the best defensive player in the country?

eric berryEric Berry, S, Tennessee
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the best defensive player in the country. The 5-11, 203-pound Berry covers like a cornerback and hits like a linebacker. He’s only a junior, and in two years patrolling the Volunteer secondary, he’s picked off 12 passes in 26 games, including seven interceptions in 2008.

But Berry’s most headline-grabbing statistic is his interception return yardage. Florida State corner Terrell Buckley amassed 501 interception return yards in three seasons from 1989-91. In his first two seasons in orange, Berry has totaled 487 interception return yards, leaving him 14 yards shy of Buckley’s NCAA career record.

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It’s a safe bet Berry will break that record this year.

Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin said again at SEC Football Media Days on Friday that he doesn’t expect star safety Eric Berry to return for his senior season in 2010. But Berry, who projects as a top pick in next year’s draft if he leaves, laid out a scenario in which he could come back. “If my parents find a job,” Berry said.

Both Berry’s parents are victims of the ongoing economic crisis. Berry said his mother was laid off from a job with a construction company about a year ago. He also said his father, James, a former Tennessee player, lost his job in February. If his parents’ situation improves, Berry said, he might consider returning to UT. “Probably so,” he said, when asked if he would consider coming back if both his parents found jobs.

As is often the case with elite players, Berry has taken out an insurance policy worth $3 million, according to