Sunday, 25 October 2009

Quick thoughts on Eric Berry vs Alabama

I'm heading to Wembley, London today to watch the New England Patriots walk all over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I wanted to get some quick thoughts on last night's action on the blog though and my main focus of attention was Eric Berry's performance against Alabama. As you may know, I've been critical of the Tennessee safety. If you check most other draft blogs or scouting websites you see almost universal hype for Berry. I'm not on the bandwagon.

For starters, Berry was hardly involved in the game. That's not really his fault, he plays safety. Alabama rarely threw deep against Tennessee, instead choosing to pound it up the middle with Mark Ingram or throw a few short routes to Julio Jones. Monte Kiffin tried to be creative with his big name prospect, moving him around to line up at cornerback and safety whilst also pushing him up to the line of scrimmage frequently to blitz or support the run.

Even still - he was almost a non-event in this game. When asked to play as a cover corner he looked quite good, showing an ability to stick with his man and make a play for the ball. That is what Berry does well, he reads a quarterbacks eyes better than most defensive backs. When a quarterback makes a bad pass, that's when Berry's big play potential shines through. Unfortunately in this game, Alabama leaned on their running game and Greg McElroy played the percentages never really affording Berry to use his main strength.

So how did he cope against a run heavy offense? On the few occasions he was able to make a tackle, it showed up why I have very serious concerns about that area of his game. He never, I repeat, never wraps up. When he gets to the ball carrier you can guarantee he's going to dive low and try to take the guys legs. This leaves him susceptible to the increasingly frequent whiff and he almost seems unprepared to get in there and use his hands to tackle a guy. He's not the biggest and he certainly doesn't have a great deal of upper body strength and I think he knows this. He projects his body well driving with his legs creating a lot of power to hit low. But he can't deliver the same force using his arms.

With 5:14 left in the game he made a particularly ugly play, completely whiffing on Mark Ingram with Alabama pinned back deep in their own red zone. Ingram just runs to the right with Berry pushed up to the line of scrimmage and the running back just runs straight past him. I'm not even sure Berry touched the guy - he just flat out missed him as he ran straight past his ear. It's such a basic play, to not even challenge Ingram at the line was just unacceptable for me. So many mock drafts have Berry going in the top ten, but if I'm taking a safety that early in round one - he doesn't whiff on that tackle, simple as that.

I'm finding it increasingly difficult to place Eric Berry in the draft. He's clearly a playmaking threat in the passing game, he reads plays well and he's a threat to make an interception a pick six. On the other hand, he looks like he could be a complete liability against the run or simply facing the more physical receivers, tight ends and running backs in the NFL.

Elsewhere, C.J. Spiller again continues to impress me week in, week out. The guy is a flat out playmaker - exactly the kind Seattle could use on offense. Here's the stat line as he helped Clemson defeat Miami - 81 rushing yards from 14 attempts, six receptions for 104 yards including a 56-yard TD grab and 90-yard kick return touchdown. He runs well, he catches well, he returns kicks well and he even pass protects well. If the Seahawks aren't keeping tabs on this guy, they should be.

Jahvid Best was in devastating form for the second week in succession, recording 159 rushing yards as California defeated Washington State 49-17. He added a 27 yard passing touchdown to two rushing scores, including a 61-yard scamper. After a mini-slump recently that ended his Heisman hopes, Best is back on top form.

Golden Tate continues to help his draft stock as the Notre Dame wideout took 11 passes for 128-yards and a pair of touchdowns. His quarterback Jimmy Clausen went 26/39 for 246 yards as ND defeated Boston College 20-16. Keep an eye on Clausen, I'd put money on him declaring and his stock continues to rise each week.

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