With five new starters and several reserves who have yet to play any substantial minutes for Auburn, the defense will be something to keep a close eye on this Saturday night as the Tigers face one of the nation's more explosive offenses. Herring says that despite the hype surrounding quarterback Alex Brink and receivers Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus, Auburn's first job remains the same as it always is.
"The first thing is shutting down the run," Herring says. "I think if we can establish a new line of scrimmage and make them go second and long and third and long, we'll be fine as long as we shut down the run."
Playing without projected starters Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon at linebacker, Auburn goes into the opener with Herring, Karibi Dede and Merrill Johnson as the starters. They will be backed up by sophomore Chris Evans, redshirt freshman Patrick Trahan and true freshman Craig Stevens. Herring says that even with all of the inexperience he believes the unit has a chance to be special.
"I definitely do," Herring says. "It's going to be nice when we get Kevin back and Tray back and Gandy healthy, but we've got guys that can step in right now. We've got the three starters and some guys that have really come on. Trahan has had a great two-a-days. Chris Evans had a great two-a-days. I feel good."
Herring has always been known for his physical play at safety and now he can show that as a linebacker.
While both Herring and Dede have plenty of playing experience for the Tigers, Johnson comes into the Washington State game without a start under his belt although he did play in 11 games in 2005. One of Auburn's most talented linebackers, Johnson played well in limited duty last season with 21 tackles and Herring says that's just a glimpse of what he expects from Johnson this season.
"I knew he was a phenomenal athlete and a great outside linebacker," Herring says. "For him to move to mike and still be successful and have as big an impact as he is, that impresses me even more. He's smart and he's shown that this two-a-days. He's picked up a lot and learned a completely new position. That's something that will really help our defense having him at mike."
Herring's move to linebacker and the move of fellow safety Steve Gandy to linebacker has left the Tigers thin at safety with just Eric Brock back with starting experience. Joining him in the starting lineup against Washington State will be Aairon Savage, a player that came to Auburn as a cornerback. Behind them redshirt sophomores Tristan Davis and Lorenzo Ferguson as well as true freshman Zac Etheridge will provide depth. Herring says that while the group doesn't have a lot of name recognition he likes the way they play the game.
"They look great," Herring says. "They have come a long ways in my opinion. For Savage to have stepped up like he has, a redshirt freshman with his talent, he's a big cornerback at safety. He's so athletic he's going to help us phenomenally. Brock has gotten so much better from last year. He's come on and more of himself. Everybody knows the two corners can hold down the outside."
Auburn's defense will attempt to hold down a powerful offense in the first game under coordinator Will Muschamp. Bringing with him a complicated scheme that features a number of different schemes and alignments, Muschamp has thrown a lot at the Tigers during the preseason camp. Herring says that now is the easy part because they break down the defense to smaller portions depending on how it matches up with the Cougars offense they've seen on film all summer.
"There is a lot more studying our stuff during two-a-days," Herring says. "As you get into the season it's a lot more studying the offenses. The mental side on our defense was unbelievable in two-a-days because we were putting in so much.
"Now we've narrowed it down so once you've learned our calls and sharpened up on them then you look at the opposing team," Herring adds. "What do they do in this formation? What do they do in that formation? It kind of changes gears a little bit."
Herring and his teammates will finally get to try out their new defense on somebody other than their teammates on Saturday evening. Kickoff is set for 6:45 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.