KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The topic came up Friday night at dinner. Chiefs secondary coach Emmitt Thomas, a Hall of Fame former cornerback and longtime coach, stood in front of Kansas City's rookie defensive backs and reminded them that, yep, it's Thomas who has more interceptions than any player in Chiefs history.
Whether it was a veiled challenge or a point of dinner small talk, Thomas' words were aimed at the Chiefs' new defensive backs: first-round safety Eric Berry, second-round cornerback Javier Arenas, and fifth-round safety Kendrick Lewis.
Berry said Saturday that he got his coach's message.
"Always trying to teach us something," said Berry, whom the Chiefs selected last week with the fifth overall draft pick. "I have a good tool in him."
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Berry is the highest-drafted defensive back in Chiefs history, but he's not acting as if he knows it all. The former Tennessee star is used to asking for help and absorbing as much as he can. Berry was a Volunteers defensive back when he started exploring the mind of Monte Kiffin, the longtime NFL coordinator who spent one year as coordinator for his son, former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin. And Berry took advantage. Monte Kiffin spent time last year preparing Berry for what he'd face while making the transition from college football to the NFL.
"You've just got to put in overtime," Berry said Saturday, after the Chiefs' first-year players' morning practice at their Truman Sports Complex facility. "Just get in my playbook, make sure I know what's going on. Ask questions; that's a big part of it."
Berry said Kiffin educated Berry on the NFL combine, the pre-draft interview process and the marathon visit schedule that many of the draft's likely top picks endure. Kiffin clued him in on what happens after the draft: schedules, practices and meetings. Kiffin had been there. He knew Berry was going there.
"He really prepared me for this level," Berry said.
It wasn't long after the Chiefs drafted Berry that he had a new set of mentors. Berry said Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers, who's beginning his third season, started issuing advice about what the youngster should expect. Then Brandon Carr, another third-year Chiefs corner, began sending messages to Berry on the social networking site Twitter.
Berry said he planned to lean on his new teammates and, as he had learned to do at Tennessee, soak in what he could.
"They've seen a lot more than I have," Berry said. "I'm coming from college, the college level, and they've been playing in this league for three years. All I can do is just pick their brains and figure out what I can use."
Berry knows he'll have to adjust quickly. He's expected to begin the season as an immediate contributor and likely starter at one of the safety positions. Berry has plenty of talent but little experience, and that's why Thomas appeared this weekend to take a special interest in Berry. Thomas worked one-on-one with Berry during part of Saturday's afternoon workout, staying by Berry's side while the rookie was on the sideline.
Berry said the 66-year-old coach is making himself known quickly to Kansas City's rookies, leading secondary meetings and introducing the youngsters to his style.
"Coach Thomas, he's a very personable guy," Berry said. "He's very down to earth. He doesn't have that big ego or whatever. He encourages us to ask questions. Having him in the meeting room is truly a blessing."
The Chiefs declined The Star's request to interview Thomas on Saturday.
Berry said he'll make good use of Thomas' experience and perspective. And why not? Friday night's reminder — that the old coach had 58 career interceptions and 12 in 1974 alone — was likely designed as a method to show those young defensive backs that, yes, they're in the NFL now, but they still have a long way to go.
"He was talking about that and saying how much the game changed," Berry said. "But really, a lot of the guys can relate to him in the secondary. He's just that type of guy.
"I just want to make sure I learn as fast as I can and make sure I come in ready to play. If it is that starting role, I'll try to make sure I'm ready for that, whatever it is. Until that point, I'll just keep working."