KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The safety the Chiefs ask to do a little bit of everything is playing about 10 yards deep, directly in front of the tight end. The ball is snapped and the tight end is coming his way, but Eric Berry is reading the eyes of the quarterback he once idolized all the way.
Not even ten seconds later, Berry is striding into the end zone with the football, the beneficiary of an interception caused by a bad read by Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick and a tipped pass that deflected off the fingers of linebacker Derrick Johnson.
It was an important score, one that built momentum and gave the Chiefs' a crucial 10-point first-quarter lead in a 26-16 victory over the Eagles on Thursday night, but afterward, Berry was deferential.
“D.J., he just did a great job breaking on it,” Berry said, non-nonchalantly. “I was back deep reading. I just capitalized off what he did and just took it to the house.”
Despite Berry;s deference, the moment was special for the Atlanta native. Prior to the game, Berry had told the NFL Network that the one quarterback he would really like to intercept was Vick, 33, and now here he was, doing just that.
“It was crazy,” said Berry, 24. “I saw what he did for the city of Atlanta. It's like he put the city on his back. It was a wonderful feeling just to see him play, and for me to be on the same field as him, let alone get the ball from him, I felt like that was truly an honor and something special.”
But interestingly enough, Berry said Vick was not necessarily his favorite player growing up.
“He was one of them,” Berry said. “But Sean Taylor, hands down, that's my favorite player of all time. That's why I tape my fingers.”
It makes sense, because finger tape and even draft position — both were taken fifth overall in their respective drafts, unusually high for safeties — aren't the only football-related traits Berry shares with the now-deceased Taylor.
Before his death at the age of 24, Taylor was a physical marvel, a super-sized safety who stood 6 feet 2 and 212 pounds but could still run a 4.5 40-yard dash. He was deployed in a variety of ways by Washington, which sought to take advantage of a unique combination of coverage ability and hard- hitting flash that led teammates to call him “Meast” — half man, half beast.
Taylor, a star at the University of Miami, was a two-time Pro Bowler before his life ended abruptly in 2007, when he was murdered in his South Florida home by robbers during his fourth professional season.
Berry was playing at the University of Tennessee then, in the middle of putting together a campaign that led to him being named the Southeastern Conference's defensive freshman of the year. That was nearly six years ago, but — who is now a two-time Pro Bowler in the middle of his fourth season, just like Taylor was — still speaks as if his favorite player still alive, which perhaps reflects the lasting imprint Taylor made on him about what a safety should and could be.
“He just plays ball,” Berry said. “I think on the roster it says safety, but when it gets down to it, he does everything. Man-to-man coverage, blitzes, zone, plays the deep middle … he does it all.”
Berry doesn't quite have Taylor's imposing stature, though he's not a small man by any means at 6 feet and 211 pounds. However, teammates have marveled at Berry's ability.
In three games this season, Berry has racked up 14 tackles, a half-sack and two pass deflections, all while lining up as an inside linebacker, playing the deep zone and matching up in man-to-man coverage vs. a variety of receiving threats, all the while offering a dash of playmaking ability — which he proved with his interception on Thursday.
“When he's out on the field, wherever he's at, we know he's going to be OK,” said veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson. “You don't have to put a guy over the top of him when he's on a tight end.”
Robinson, a 10-year veteran, was adamant that this makes Berry a rare breed at safety in the NFL.
“This dude is one of the best football players I've ever been around in my life,” Robinson said, dead serious. “I know he's a young player, four years in, but he acts like a 12-year vet, like a guy that's been playing for a long time. He plays with his heart and soul, and it's a lot of fun playing with a guy like that.”