KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thrilled as he was to be chosen as a Pro Bowl starter, Chiefs safety Eric Berry was equally happy for other members of the club.
The four other Chiefs, yes, but specifically running back Jamaal Charles, who like Berry, missed nearly all of last year because of an ACL tear.
“It’s like a little frat,” Berry said. “People don’t realize what you go through, until it happens to you. So I always root a little harder for guys who tear their ACL. I understand their struggles.”
And appreciate their success.
In this abysmal year for the Chiefs, who lug a 2-13 record to Denver for Sunday’s season finale, Charles figured to be the Chiefs’ best Pro Bowl candidate as he approaches a 1,500-yard rushing season.
Berry? The talk through the season’s first half focused on his slow return from the injury. But his improvement accelerated in the season’s second half and he has drawn the admiration of teammates.
“I look at what he’s done, what he’s come back from,” reserve safety Tysyn Hartman said, “going about his business without complaining about it at all.”
Both of Berry’s 11-tackle games and eight of his 10 pass deflections have occurred in the last seven weeks.
Berry stopped short of saying he’s having the best stretch of his young career. But he did say the game has slowed considerably.
“I know when I’m in my zone,” Berry said. “It’s hard to explain, but you know it when you feel it. When plays come my way, I know I could make them.”
In Sunday’s home loss to Indianapolis, Berry helped contain Reggie Wayne most of the game — until Wayne’s game-winning touchdown reception.
A week earlier at Oakland, one of Berry’s 11 tackles was a terrific read when he came into the box and dropped Darren McFadden for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1.
Add it up, and it helped make Berry two-for-two in Pro Bowls.
“It was just a sigh of relief that all the work I put in and everything I went through this off season as far as rehabbing,” Berry said. “I’m just really excited. I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t even thinking about the Pro Bowl. I was just thinking about finishing this season out and getting ready for next season.”
The news was such a surprise, Berry had to double check.
“At first, I went on the Internet to make sure it was true,” he said. “Everybody was texting me. I wasn’t watching TV.”
There was no way to project the honor, not with Berry’s start. The ACL injury occurred in the 2011 season opener against Buffalo. All momentum built from a season in which Berry set a Chiefs tackles for a rookie safety was gone.
In late June, after vigorous rehabilitation and without going through off-season workouts and mini-camp, Berry declared himself “100 percent recovered.” Physically, he was. But early this season, it didn’t appear as if all systems were go.
He lacked the explosiveness, and the Chiefs defense was suffering, allowing more than 30 points per game through the midseason loss at San Diego. There were reasons, starting with his re-education of the NFL.
“This year was like my rookie year all over again,” Berry said.
But it was more complicated. The Chiefs added to Berry’s responsibilities this season, like using him as a linebacker in nickel package.
“We put more on his plate this year,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. “So coming off a major injury, giving him more to do, he had to work through those things. Now, he’s gotten more comfortable with the multiple jobs we’ve given him and it’s showed up on the field.”
With a late January trip to Honolulu, Sunday’s game against playoff-bound Denver won’t be Berry’s last, but the former first-round selection has already started to think of next season.
“Keep working, keep improving my football IQ, never settle,” Berry said. “Nobody knew the season was going to be like this. You have to go to work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”