Part of this was a makeup move. Eric Berry should have won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2008. That year, he had seven interceptions, two pick-sixes and averaged 37.9 yards an interception return. Meanwhile, he had eight and a half tackles for a loss, three sacks and 72 total tackles, 44 of which were solo. However, Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State got the award.
Jenkins had just three interceptions returned for just seven yards, four tackles for a loss a sack and 57 total tackles, 34 of which were solo. By the way, Jenkins was also a safety, so you couldn’t use the safety vs. cornerback dynamic. Tennessee football going 5-7 may have had something to do with Berry losing out, but he never should have.
In 2009, though, Lane Kiffin brought in Monte Kiffin to install his Tampa 2 defense. Because of that, Berry played much closer to the line of scrimmage, and his numbers took a hit. He had seven tackles for a loss and just two interceptions to go along with 87 tackles, 56 of which were solo.
However, to be fair to the voters, they were able to see past that and understand how Kiffin was using Berry. They also probably knew they messed up a year earlier. As a result, Berry got the award, one he so richly deserved. Even without the stats, it was an amazing season for him.