"Predator" linebacker Bertrand Berry (92) celebrates the final sack of Sunday's game by teammate Travis LaBoy.
The strip was vintage Bertrand Berry, reaching out when he wasn't going to be able to make the tackle and knocking the ball loose from unaware 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.
Moments later, after Berry owned the forced fumble (and resulting sack) and teammate Antonio Smith had scooped up the ball for the Cardinals, Berry came to the sideline with a unique celebration – taking his helmet off and sticking his tongue out, as if to lap up the cool San Francisco air.
It was not to incite the 49ers' fans, a smiling Berry said Wednesday, but instead "releasing a whole lot of tension that has been there for a while."
Since his Pro Bowl 2004 season, the tension has had plenty of room to build with
Berry. First came three straight years of season-ending injuries at midseason. Then came this offseason, when the Cards asked him to take a substantial paycut – from $4 million to $1 million, although incentives are built in to possibly make back the money.
After that, the Cardinals signed free-agent Travis LaBoy, who played the same position of "predator" linebacker/defensive end. By the time training camp was over, LaBoy had not surprisingly surpassed Berry on the depth chart.
This was the tension Berry carried with him into Sunday's opener. And why a sack – and a Cardinals' win – felt so good.
"I felt like I was back home again," Berry said.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Berry looked "dynamic." Keeping the 33-year-old Berry fresh is a key, Whisenhunt said.
There were times Berry even lined up inside during passing situations, and times when he shared the field with LaBoy.
"I think Bert is happy in that role," Whisenhunt said. "He is still a significant part of our defense."
Given that his Pro Bowl year isn't that far in the rear-view mirror, accepting a new role wasn't necessarily easy. But Berry has reconciled with his shifting responsibility.
"I'm not the starter, I'm the backup," Berry said. "That's something I have accepted. My goal is to help this team get into the playoffs. That's what I promised to do when I came here."
Berry's relationship with LaBoy has helped. The two didn't know each other personally when LaBoy arrived, but Berry was one of the pass rushers LaBoy had studied on tape since LaBoy arrived in the league.
When LaBoy came to Arizona, a friendship developed.
"Bert is just a great guy," LaBoy said. "He's a good dude to learn from. He's got all the tools I am trying to learn as a player, so naturally I kind of gravitate to him."
The two may be fighting for the same playing time, but LaBoy smiled when it was called a "battle" between he and Berry.
"I don't see it as a battle, I see it as me and Bert as the same player," LaBoy said. "We're one player, and we just can't be on the field at the same time. That's how I look at it. I don't see it as a first- or second-string thing."
Berry said defensive depth can only benefit the Cardinals and, perhaps, indirectly, can also give extra benefit to Berry. Fewer snaps and less wear and tear on the body might help him get past the injury issues Berry has dealt with the past three seasons.
Maybe the Cardinals will see more of the swipe-sack Berry provided in the opener, the one that caused Smith to say "it felt like déjà vu out there."
Then again, déjà vu is about what once was. These days, Berry focuses on what will be.
"I just want to contribute," Berry said. "I try not to think about the past. Obviously it's been a disappointing three years not being able to finish, but at the same time, this is a new season, new expectations.
"There's no sense of looking backward."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 9/10/08.
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