Evan Berry Stepping Up On Defense

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    Evan Berry-1Evan Berry showed what he can do on the football field in 2014.

    As a true freshman, Berry, the younger brother of famed Vol defensive back Eric Berry and twin brother of current Vol linebacker Elliott Berry, took over kickoff return duties midway through the season and was a standout at that spot. His 29.5 yards-per-return average qualified as the seventh best in the nation. His 68-yarder against Chattanooga was the longest for a Tennessee player since 2012.

    So there’s been little question of if the Fairburn, Ga., native has the athleticism and the instincts to play at this level. He does. But, like several other members of the 2014 Legacy Signing Class, Berry is looking to take the next step in 2015, and in his case that likely includes him holding down that kickoff return job for a full season and at least solidifying a spot on the two-deep at safety.

    Saturday’s scrimmage was a nice step in that direction for him.

    “Had a couple interceptions, played downhill and played with great, great confidence,” coach Butch Jones said of Berry’s performance inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon. “So that was great to see.”

    A couple of those nice plays came in the open portion of the situational scrimmage. Berry channeled his older brother a bit, showing flashes of being a complete player in the secondary. Facing the second-team offense, he came up and laid a huge hit on senior receiver Johnathon Johnson, a play that got the entire defensive sideline jumping.

    One play later, he made a leaping interception, snatching a ball from freshman quarterback Quinten Dormady at its highest point, ending that drive almost single-handedly.

    The good Evan Berry was clearly on display on Saturday. But Jones, as he has with many of the young players this spring, used one of his favorite phrases to describe his overall development this spring.

    “It has been a work in progress,” he said. “There have been good days, there have been days that have been better than others. But one thing about Evan is, he is extremely competitive and you saw that today. We all know he can run. Now it is being able to have the instincts, understanding offensive schemes, what they are trying to approach, just letting it go. I thought today he played downhill.”

    The good news for Tennessee is that he still has another full year to figure it all out on defense before the expectations rise to a higher level. He can play behind seniors Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil this year, but assuming both win the starting jobs this fall, that means safety will be wide open come 2016. Berry, along with fellow current rising sophomore Todd Kelly Jr. are the early favorites to be penciled in as a four-star legacy duo at that point.

    It’s borderline-blasphemous in Tennessee circles to suggest that he’ll get to the point where he can be as dominant as his older brother. But those who see him everyday are noticing the potential.

    “He’s a little wide-eyed sometimes too, but once he gets going, he looks just like his brother,” said Randolph. “He’s getting it down.”