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Will Herring: Linebacker at heart

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Linebacker at heart

Friday, August 25, 2006


News staff writer

AUBURN -- Will Herring remembers walking into the office of his new defensive coordinator last spring with 178 career tackles, a string of 36 consecutive starts and the crown of All-SEC safety.

He walked out as just another linebacker.

"I was a little bit confused," Herring said.

But being a fifth-year senior and all-around good sport, Herring believed it was the right thing to do. Auburn needed new linebackers, and who better than an experienced safety?

Herring's move marks one of the biggest shake-ups of the Tigers' new-look defense.

Already there were new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and new linebackers coach James Willis and, now, quite out of the blue, a new linebacker in Herring.

"I had no idea that it was coming," Herring said.

That said, Herring had heard rumors of a move almost immediately after last season ended. His 69 tackles at safety were tops on the team, but the new defensive administration quickly surmised Herring was a linebacker at heart, though he didn't know it.

The move made sense, Willis said, because "he's always around the ball some kind of way."

Muschamp figured he would move Herring closer to said ball before plays really develop. The results, by all accounts, have gone well. Herring will start at strong-side linebacker when Auburn opens against Washington State on Sept. 2.

"The biggest change for him was how to line up," Willis said. "Other than that, he's the same type of player: He's smart. He's athletic. He's very open-minded. A good guy, as he always is."

And a guy whose reputation precedes him.

Last year's All-SEC safety is this year's preseason All-SEC linebacker, though he has never played a down at that position. The preseason accolade came in a vote of the coaches, too, which still seems to catch Herring off guard.

"All-SEC at linebacker?" Herring asked. "It's a huge honor, but at the same time, I'm like a freshman there."

He is hardly a freshman, however. He played two games as a true freshman in 2002 before getting hurt, got that year back as a medical redshirt, and has played ever since.

His 176 tackles the past three seasons are second only to the 205 of former linebacker Travis Williams, who didn't have to change positions his senior year.

Hey, Will, can you step in my office?

Herring made it to Muschamp's office, discussed the move and left with an escape clause.

"He said if I didn't want to play it, or if any time I wasn't happy, I could move back to safety," Herring said. "But he told me that's he done this before, moving a safety to linebacker in his defense. He said it was good to have an athletic strong-side linebacker with his schemes.

"I trust him. He knows what he's doing out there."

The buzz on this new defense is it will feature all sorts of hijinks, especially with the blitz and the utilization of team speed. Speed, at least running-around speed, hasn't been so much the issue for Herring. It's the speed of the game that has changed.

"Learning my assignments hasn't been really hard. But the tempo is different at linebacker, and seeing the game from up in the box, so close to the line, has definitely taken some time to adjust to," Herring said. "Through spring and throughout two-a-days, I've felt a lot more comfortable. I think I'm starting to get close to where I need to be."

Willis said he's tried not to "overload" Herring with too many aspects of the move, but says the move from safety to linebacker is best for Herring now, and maybe in the future.

"I would think so, because you have to compare yourself with the rest of the players and the rest of the league," Willis said. "At safety, he may have been out of place. At linebacker, he definitely has the body, the frame, the speed and intelligence to play that position.

"I can really see him playing in the NFL."

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