Herring, a 5-11, 205-pounder from Live Oak, is like having a coach on the field for the Gators. He is the vocal and physical leader in the defensive backfield, a real warrior who you will always find around the football. He loves to play, even in practice, so it was tough for him to sit out Tuesday, even if he understands fully that the young guys need to get their reps because they will be needed this fall.
"Yeah it was tough especially when I see somebody messing up in a play that I could be making," he said. "But, those guys need to learn because anyone can get hurt any time, we need some backups, so I was just trying to help them out."
Watching on the sideline, he got a closeup look at how Florida's cornerback position has improved from one that was considered a weak spot to one that is becoming a team strength. There was no question when practice began that Dee Webb could handle one of the corners but there was some skepticism about senior Vernell Brown, mostly because of his size (5-8, 165). Brown has shown that he can handle the coverage in the first 10 days of practice.
The depth at the position is looking more solid with each passing day. Junior college transfer Reggie Nelson and true freshman Avery Atkins are living up to the hype that arrived with them the day they showed up on campus in the summer. Reggie Lewis is starting to show signs that he can be a playmaker and Tremaine McCullom has been solid since the August camp opened. Dawayne Grace, a redshirt freshman, is also getting his chances to prove himself.
"The corners especially have shown improvement," Herring said. "They have surprised everyone. I guess everyone came out to work this year. They know they have a fair chance and guys were really working to try and get a starting spot."
The safety position looks like it's loaded. In the scrimmage, sophomore Kyle Jackson delivered three devastating hits, one that caused an interception. Sophomore Tony Joiner had a sharp scrimmage, too. There is quality backup depth with senior Deshawn Carter and juniors Terrance Holmes and Nick Brooks.
Even though they looked very good in the scrimmage, their toughest critic wasn't about to give them a perfect score.
"They still are in the improvement mode," Herring said. "I am glad they finally came and stepped up. They were kind of lagging a little bit and coach wanted their full attention, and they finally did it."
The defense has been the story of the training camp, particularly with the offense still in a hit or miss mode. While the offensive unit is learning on the fly, the defense is molding into a unit that could be very special. Herring says part of the problem for the offense is that it's going against an improving defense every day in practice.
"That first defense might be crazy," he said. "We need to not get hurt. That's why we are creating the depth. The defensive line is the biggest improvement. They have had all the potential in the world, but they weren't showing it every play. They are finally showing it more than ever now, especially (defensive end) Ray McDonald … he has really stepped up."
For a team that comes into the fall with the personnel to be an offensive juggernaut, it has to be a warning signal to the rest of the SEC that the Florida defense might be one that dominates in the fall. If the Gators can get the offense plugged in and the defense continues its improvement, the Gators could be a dominating team on both sides of the ball. That's good news for Florida fans, bad news for the rest of the SEC.