CHICAGO – It’s Warren Herring’s time and he knows it.
Herring has benefited from watching a long list of leaders be a part of the Wisconsin defense, rattling off names like J.J. Watt, Chris Borland and Culmer St. Jean. And considering the Badgers return zero starters in the front seven, the senior feels it’s a great opportunity to fill the leadership void.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Herring said during Big Ten Media Days at the downtown Hilton Chicago. “I take a lot of pride into it. Like I said, just doing what I can to lead by example and be as consistent as possible to set an example for the younger guys.”
“It’s my last year so you’ve got to go out with a final bang,” he said.
Being in the center of the newly-budding 3-4 defense, Herring is going to be asked to do as much as he can to plug holes and sack quarterbacks. Because of his versatility and ability to play all three positions on the line, head coach Gary Andersen wants the 294-pound tackle to be able to be on the field as much as possible.
“I’ve challenged Warren, (and) we talk about it all the time,” Andersen said. “We’ve got to get to the point where Warren can play 50 snaps at a high level. Some may not say that’s a big number. I think it is for a nose guard.”
If it were up to Herring, he would play 70 plays per game. While working out, eating healthy and conditioning will help that number, Andersen also wants to find a combination of players that can fill in when he does need rest. Six freshmen grace the roster on the defensive line, some of whom will have important roles with Herring on the sidelines or flexed to a different position.
“The development for him to get out and be involved in some pass rushing situations, or even play some defensive end for us, will completely rely on where we sit with the other nose guards,” Andersen said.
Some of the new schemes that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and defensive line coach Chad Kuaha’aha’a are looking to implement will also help that process.
“We’ve taken a look at some of it,” Herring said. “As of right now it’s just early things so we don’t fill the young guys’ heads too quickly. They’re getting it and we’ll continue to install every now and then, so we’ll see how it goes during camp.
Some of those schemes will require Herring to move around and be more aggressive in pass rushing scenarios. Getting pressure this season is going to be important for a team that ranked 60th in the FBS with just 26 total sacks, 62nd in sacks per game (2.0) and tied for 71st in turnovers gained (20). Herring thinks with the athleticism of the newcomers and the new schemes, pressure should be achievable.
“Our secondary has got some good experience, but you don’t want to leave your DBs out there covering for four, five seconds at a time,” Herring said. “So it’s going to be very important, and we stressed that, especially to get a lot more pressure than we did last year. We’ve got a lot more elusive guys, a lot faster. (We have) guys that are a lot faster, guys that like to eat on the pass, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Herring was able to force some action in the backfield last season. Playing in all 13 games, he had four sacks and six tackles for loss and wants to be even more of a physical presence in the nose tackle position.
“The whole Big Ten is physical no matter where you go,” he said. “It’s going to be physical, that’s what the Big Ten is known for. So that’s the mindset every game – to be physical.”
Wisconsin had that physical defense at times last season. With the group of seniors in the trenches, the Badgers ranked fifth against the run (102.5), sixth in scoring (16.3 points per game) and 17th against the pass (202.5).
Herring needs to be ready to plug the middle to by plugging the holes, like Beau Allen did in his career at UW.
“I’ve been working on a lot of technique, being a little more technical," Herring said. “Also getting down a little lower on the run, because we had Allen last year, (who) was a run stopper. Just trying to do as much as I can to replace what he gave us last year.”