Looking to Lead On Defense

New defensive coordinator David Gibbs says he is counting on Will Herring to be a key player for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's new defensive coordinator, David Gibbs, is counting on returning starter Will Herring to be the quarterback of the secondary.

A redshirt junior free safety with two seasons of starting experience with the Tigers, Herring says he is ready for the challenge as the Tigers put the final touches on the game plan for the season opener vs. Georgia Tech.

"I am ready to get out there and run around," he says. "We have put in the work and we have put in the time. I am ready to go."

Herring is preparing to start for a third consecutive season after redshirting his first season at AU.

Gibbs says he likes Herring's overall knowledge of the game and the junior, who was a quarterback in high school, says he feels more comfortable than ever in his role as a safety on defense.

"The learning curve has been tremendous since I have got here," he says. "The game-time experience has helped me and it is something that you can't replace. I have definitely come a long way, but at the same time I am looking to improve."

Herring says he believes the Tigers will be strong again on defense in 2005 despite changing defensive coordinators from Gene Chizik to Gibbs. "We are going to get after them," Herring says. "We are going to blitz them and we are going to man them up at times.

"We definitely have got an energetic group of guys," Herring adds. "We aren't the biggest guys, and we may not be the most talented defense in the nation, but as far as heart goes we have a lot of it. When it comes to speed, there is not going to be a much faster defense than us."

With Montae Pitts dropping to second team on the depth chart at cornerback, Herring is the only returning starter in the secondary who will open the game in the AU lineup. Eric Brock is expected to start the season No. 1 at strong safety while David Irons is first team at one corner with Patrick Lee ahead of Pitts on the other corner.

Herring says there has been plenty of preseason competition for playing time. "We definitely have had a lot of guys step up. (Safety) Steve Gandy has made a world of improvement from where he was last year. Kevin Hobbs has done a great job of coming on this year. He is pushing me at safety and pushing Eric. He is giving us more depth. We have to compete with each other to push us to the level where we need to be."

Will Herring celebrates a big play during Auburn's season with Junior Rosegreen (right).

Herring says he and his teammates will be tested by Tech star receiver Calvin Johnson. "One thing we have to do in the secondary is disrupt his timing," the safety says. "If the corners are up pressing him at the line of scrimmage, they have got to get their hands on him because if he gets running down the field he is going to be a hard guy to stop. Whenever the ball goes up, we have to do whatever it takes to separate the ball from him.

"We can't tuck our tails if he makes a play," Herring adds. "He is going to make a play, we just have to work to contain him. If we get a chance, we need to get a lick on him."

Herring and the Tigers will get their test from Johnson and the Yellow Jackets at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday in the opener for both teams from soldout Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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