Kansas City, Mo. As a loyal Tennessee grad, Peyton Manning enjoys returning to his roots and working out with the Volunteers.
It was during those friendly 7-on-7 drills back in Knoxville that rookie safety Eric Berry learned a lesson that might work to the advantage of the Kansas City Chiefs in Indianapolis this week.
“Don’t bite on the pump fake,” Berry said with a big grin.
Sounds elementary. But the Chiefs (3-0) — the only unbeaten team left in the NFL — are mining every possible avenue for every scrap of information they can gather on the Colts quarterback, a four-time NFL MVP.
That includes Chiefs coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, who have compiled game plans against him, former Tennessee players who have practiced with him and one-time teammates who might have even a sliver of useful information.
“Any time you have resources that have played somewhere or coaches that have happened to coach there or things like that, you always try to go to all lengths to at least do some research,” admitted Chiefs coach Todd Haley.
One of the most valuable members of the Chiefs this week could be guard Ryan Lilja. He signed a free agent contract this year after helping protect Manning’s blind side for six seasons.
“You get a guy like Ryan that’s into football and is a bright guy, so he’s a good resource,” Haley said. “But things change in this league and rarely do you have somebody coming directly from the team that you’re playing because each and every year is different in the NFL and the teams change.
“I don’t know how much you can put into all those things. I think that as coaches you try to cover, at least research any opportunities or resources you have and you take it from there.”
When Haley describes Manning as perhaps the greatest quarterback ever, he gets no argument from his rookie safety. During those drills back in Knoxville, Berry saw Manning do something that amazed him.
“In any situation, he always competes,” he said. “We had three different offensive coordinators the three years I was there and the wide receivers would have different plays and stuff like that. But for some reason, every time he came back, it was like they were on one accord, just working on all cylinders. It was pretty cool.”
Going against Manning was a good education for a future NFL safety.
“Got a lot of experience from him, a lot of knowledge from him,” Berry said.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson has been happy to listen to anyone in Kansas City with any information on Manning.
“You go directly to your sources,” he said. “Even though the Colts are a team that adjusts well when the play different teams and they’ve got great schemes. We have other guys who have played them and coaches who have coached against them. We know some of their tendencies, so hopefully we can get a bead on some things.
“But we’re going to need all the tips we can get to conquer this one. Peyton’s the best quarterback in the league.”
If the Chiefs do conquer the Colts, it would suggest Kansas City has truly emerged from a wicked three-year slosh among the league’s worst.
It would also please Haley that their hard work was being rewarded.
“This is a good group of guys,” he said. “The reward to all this sacrifice and work and lifting and running and sweat and blood is that win on Sunday. We’re still in the foundation-laying of this.
“I think it would be a real accomplishment for us, this developing team, to go in there and be competitive against a team like this.”