KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Eric Berry just couldn’t find the words.
Finally, Kansas City’s rookie safety just gave up. There’s no way to describe the excitement he’ll feel Sunday when he lines up on the same field as Ed Reed, the Baltimore safety he’s idolized since he was 14.
“Being on the field with him this Sunday is — I don’t even have words for it,” Berry said. “Growing up watching him and actually being on the field with him is going to be a big step. I don’t know. I can’t even put it into words right now.”
The resurgent Chiefs (10-6) are hoping the game at Arrowhead Stadium will mark the beginning of a new era of football in Kansas City, the start of a turnaround under second-year GM Scott Pioli and second-year coach Todd Haley.
To some, it might also mark the beginning of the passing of a torch in one of football’s key defensive positions.
The 32-year-old Reed has been recognized as an elite safety since the Ravens drafted him in the first round out of Miami in 2002.
The 22-year-old Berry shows promise of reaching elite status himself some day. He has a long way to go before he’s considered another Reed, who led the NFL this season with eight interceptions and was chosen for his seventh Pro Bowl even though he missed the first six games.
But Berry, a Tennessee All-American, has started every game since the Chiefs made him the first safety taken with a top-five pick since 1991, and a big December made him the NFL’s defensive rookie of the month.
“I’m just looking forward to playing against him,” said Berry, who had a team-leading four interceptions and returned one 54 yards for a touchdown.
Comparisons between the two are many. They’re about the same size. Reed, 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, is about an inch shorter and five pounds lighter. Both are fast and instinctive, fierce hitters with a talent for getting to the ball.
From his days as New England’s offensive coordinator in the early part of Reed’s stellar career, Charlie Weis knows Reed well. Weis is not one to make a lot of player comparisons. But the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator does not shy away from drawing Reed/Berry parallels.
“Great athleticism. The ball seems to come to them,” Weis said. “That’s one thing about Ed. He’s all over the place, but there’s a lot of balls that end up in his hands. Some of that is instinct, him breaking on the ball so well. And I think Eric, he’s a first-year player, but he’s got a very, very, very bright future.”
Just being compared with Reed brings an embarrassed look to Berry. He’s followed the Ravens star almost since he can remember and hoped to be just like him some day.
“That’s been somebody I looked up to growing up, even when he was at Miami. Him and Sean Taylor, those were my two favorite safeties of all time,” Berry said.
Reed is one of four Pro Bowlers on the powerful defense of the Ravens (12-4), who are 3-point favorites even though the Chiefs were 7-1 at home this year. With he and linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs and tackle Haloti Ngata, Baltimore will present the toughest defense Kansas City has seen all season.
“And those four guys are just their Pro Bowlers,” said Haley. “Sometimes I think people can overlook all the quality people that are also on that defense.”
Even though slowed by injury much of the year, Reed still managed to play at the highest level.
“Every time I watch him on the game tapes afterwards, you just say, ‘Wow. You’re fortunate to be around a guy like this,'” Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “Some of the plays he makes and where he is when big plays happen, that’s a special person. That’s something that will probably come around once in a lifetime, guys like that.”
His durability is another quality Berry admires. KC’s young safety would no doubt be pleased to know his admiration is not just a one-way street.
“I see growth in him,” Reed said of Berry. “I see he’s growing throughout the year. He’s making plays, had a very impressive interception he returned a couple weeks ago. I was screaming at the TV for him. I’m definitely rooting for him, too.
“I’ve never met him, personally,” Reed said. “So it’ll be interesting to meet him this week, being that it’s going to be in the playoffs, in his first playoff game. So, it’s going to be fun.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)