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October 1, 2013

Herring steps up in the middle

MADISON, Wis. - Beau Allen gets a lot of attention in the middle of Wisconsin's 3-4 defense. Allen stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 325 pounds- prototypical size for a nose guard in Dave Aranda's defense.

But you can make the argument that Warren Herring has matched Allen blow for blow so far this season. Herring, a back up nose guard from Fairview Heights, Ill., has racked up three sacks over Wisconsin's last two games, including two last week against Ohio State.

What's more impressive is that Herring has played so well despite being on the smaller size for a 3-4 nose guard. Herring is listed at 295 pounds, a full 30 pounds lighter than Allen. Some nose tackles might struggled to handle double teams and get pressure on the quarterback without that extra weight, but Herring has thrived so far using the quickness and athleticism that made him a good fit as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense.

"He's a little bit of a different player than Beau (Allen) is," Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said Monday. "Warren is very athletic. What's most impressive is the plays that he didn't necessarily make a tackle in this game, I thought he controlled the line.

"I'm fired up on the direction he's headed. But he's taking the coaching. I think his technique has improved. Now his athleticism is moving forward because of that."

Herring originally committed to Wisconsin's 2010 signing class as a defensive end, but the redshirt junior has moved around the line a lot during his career. Just last year the Badgers moved Herring from defensive end to defensive tackle to get him out from behind a logjam for playing time. The following year Andersen and his new staff asked Herring to move inside again and play nose guard in their scheme.

Defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a said Herring had to make a few big adjustments this spring, but Herring benefitted from getting all of the first team reps while Allen rehabbed an ankle injury. Kauha'aha'a said those extra reps helped Herring get used to a new playing weight, as well as a new position.

"It's been a pleasant surprise to have Warren step up," Kauha'aha'a said Tuesday. "I think he had a head start on Beau, because Beau didn't practice. I think the transition for Warren was adapting to his new weight. We asked him to gain that weight and he has, and he looks good in it. He's not a sloppy 290."

But don't expect Herring to keep adding on weight until he tops over 300 like Allen. Herring said he doesn't quite have the frame to pack on extra pounds, but at the same time it helps him stay explosive off the snap and helps him get his hands on offensive linemen quickly.

"I still feel as though I have my quickness. I still need to get used to the weight," Herring said. Tuesday. "[But] 300 pounds is a big jump for me. I feel like if I step on a scale and get to 300 I'm going to pop like a can of biscuits."

But even though Herring probably won't be a massive man in the middle for the Badgers any time soon, the Badgers are confident that Herring can keep their 3-4 defense working well next season, even after they lose a prototypical player like Allen to graduation.

"Warren is nipping at Beau's heels right now," Kauha'aha'a said. "He's right there, and I feel comfortable with him in the game. I feel comfortable with both of them."

That's good for the Badgers, who were working with a bunch of unknown commodities behind Allen at nose guard this spring and in to the fall. A good 3-4 defense needs a good nose tackle, and Kauha'aha'a said Herring has stepped up to the point where he's confident that that position won't see much of a drop off next season.

"[Herring] gives us some [long-term] security," Kauha'aha'a said. "He's like a starter, and he's going to give us some experience coming back. But we've got Bryce Gilbert, too. Bryce is the odd man out right now. I think the future is good. We've got two upper classmen coming back, we've just got to develop some guys."

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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