Chiefs safety Eric Berry sounded confident Friday that he’ll be on the field when Kansas City plays the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game at Arrowhead Stadium.
The three-time All-Pro has been a full participant in practice this week after dealing with a heel injury, but needs the OK from coach Andy Reid to take the field on Sunday night.
“I feel pretty good. Just talk to coach and see what he wants to do and go from there,” Berry said. “It would mean a lot not just for me and my family and my teammates, but the organization.”
Berry tore his Achilles’ tendon in last year’s opener, sidelining him the rest of the season. He returned in time for summer workouts and the start of training camp. But a mysterious heel injury popped up that kept Berry off the field until Week 15 against the Chargers.
Berry played more the following week on the turf in Seattle, but the injury recurred and he missed the regular-season finale against Oakland and the divisional round matchup against Indianapolis.
“It was pretty frustrating, but you just have to keep rolling,” said Berry, who nevertheless broke down the pregame huddle with an emotional pep talk. “Keep focused and keep your head down.”
Berry has become a pro at overcoming adversity.
He missed most of one season with a torn ACL in his knee, and he missed the end of another when he was diagnosed with cancer. In both instances, he recovered in time to play the following season.
However, those situations were relatively straightforward. There was a clear diagnosis and obvious path toward recovery. But the heel has been a challenge for Berry and the organization, once viewed as a “day-to-day” situation that became a saga that lasted months.
There have been various reports, always citing unnamed sources, of a heel deformity that causes intense pain, but the Chiefs and Berry have refused to confirm them.
Asked several times about the injury Friday, Berry merely replied: “It’s hard to explain.”
Berry said he wasn’t concerned about the field causing the heel problems. It was torn up in the divisional round after several inches of snow fell before the game. The grounds crew spent this week replacing the turf between the hashes, along the sidelines and in one of the end zones.
“I’m just being prepared for every situation,” Berry said. “Our field crew, grounds crew is very good. They do a very good job. Just trusting in them that they can get the job done.”
Berry’s value lies not just in his athletic ability, though the Chiefs could use some help covering Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on Sunday. Rather, his biggest benefit to a defense that has struggled mightily at times this season may be his leadership and on-field demeanor.
“A huge impact. He’s a huge player for us,” Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford said, while defensive tackle Chris Jones said “the physicality he brings to this team and the leadership role is amazing.”
When he’s at his best, Berry is one of the best safeties in the NFL, adequate in coverage and dynamic at stuffing the run. But even at a fraction of his best, Berry is still talented enough to impact a game, and that’s why his return could prove so critical to the Chiefs.
“I mean, Eric’s a good player. He’s an All-Pro player,” Reid said. “That’d be an obvious statement, but it’s another good player in the mix. A great player.”
Notes: Chiefs OLB Dorian O’Daniel (hamstring) was ruled out for the game. … WR Sammy Watkins (foot) and RB Spencer Ware (hamstring) participated in practice all week and are expected to play.
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