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Chiefs' 2012 success hinges on Eric Berry's play

Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: The Kansas City Chiefs.

Under Pressure: Eric Berry

The Chiefs suffered devastating injuries on both sides of the ball last season.

On offense, the team's explosive running back, Jamaal Charles, was finished for the season after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the second game of the season. This came one week after Eric Berry, the young leader on defense, suffered a similar injury during the season opener.

Both are being counted on to return to form in 2012, but we're picking Berry as our man under the microscope in Kansas City. Some of our "Under Pressure" targets are on the hot seat for poor performance; some find themselves at a career crossroads; Berry is a different story. He's on our list because the success of this defense hinges on his return this season. Where Berry goes, the Chiefs will go.

Kansas City will face Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and some guy named Peyton Manning in the AFC West. The Chiefs have made changes in the defensive backfield with the addition of Stanford Routt set to replace the departed Brandon Carr at cornerback. Free safety Kendrick Lewis will continue to pair alongside Berry, but the two have started just 11 games together in two seasons. With all four healthy, the Chiefs are a dark horse in this division.

Berry was outrageous in his rookie Pro Bowl campaign. He was desperately missed in 2011. The feeling in Kansas City is that if Berry returns to form, he gives this team one of the best safety combinations in football. This is especially meaningful for Kansas City's defense. Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme shares a lineage with the defense that Bill Belichick has run for years in New England. It calls for a powerful, reliable safety up the middle. In other words, Berry's the guy they count on to flip the switch.

Knowing that, he is excited to grow under Crennel: "I think they have the right guy for the job," Berry told WHB-AM in March, via "And (Crennel) is going to hold everybody accountable, and he's going to make sure everybody's doing their job. ... We know we have a good coach and we just have to rally behind him and make sure we just play for him."

It's unfair to label last season a bust for Berry, but in the business of football, he is entering the all-important third year of his rookie contract. With Berry set to earn $4.8 million this season, there is a fair amount of heat on him to show that he can put last year behind him, stay healthy and pick up where his rock-solid rookie campaign left off. With his salary set to jump to $7 million in 2013, there can be no hiccups this time around.

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