If you can't control your balance, you can't change direction. And if you can't change direction quickly and efficiently, you simply won't be able to be able to keep up with the speed of play.
This holds especially true for defensive backs, who on most plays must backpedal, plant, flip their hips and accelerate. A run-stuffing safety like Eric Berry is often called upon to step up into the box, plant, and either accelerate toward the ballcarrier or backpedal to drop into coverage.
For this reason, Berry, who was lost for the 2011 season after suffering a torn ACL in the Kansas City Chiefs' season opener, concentrates on balance training during his agility workout days.
One of the more original balance training exercises he performs is a Side Step series on a 2x4 wood beam.
While barefoot, the Pro Bowl safety side-steps down and back on the 2x4. He advances to a Side Step and Squat variation, then takes it to new extremes by executing a Jump-to-Stabilization after completing the Side Step pattern.
Kurt Hester, director of training at D1 Sports, who introduced Berry to the 2x4 training, says ""Each drill you do, it heightens the proprioception." According to Hester, the complexity of the exercise is in training your mind and body to transition from balancing on an unstable surface to stabilizing on a stable surface. "When he jumped out, your brain is telling you to control the balance," Hester says. "When he tried to stick it when the surface was stable, it threw him off balance, and that's why he fell forward. It takes a few times for your brain to adjust from that unstable surface to a stable surface. After a couple of reps, it adjusts—and then you can control your balance."
Berry is going to need superior balance and change of direction skill to defend the pass against gun-slinging Peyton Manning and the Chiefs' AFC West Division rival Denver Broncos.
The most important aspect for Berry on the comeback trail, he says, is "to have that heart and keep trying to persevere through everything. There's no reason to keep your head down."
When STACK spoke with Berry about his attitude, he referred to what's it like for a cornerback to face Manning. "If he sees you with your head down, he's going to keep coming after you," Berry says. "But if you come back strong, break up some passes and show that you've got heart, he'll look for somewhere else to throw and won't always check to your side."
Berry will now have that opportunity twice a season for years to come.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock