CHICAGO -- Like many first-year players who walk through the Camp Randall Stadium tunnel, redshirt senior defensive tackle Warren Herring didn't see action in his first year on campus, instead opting to redshirt. Still, he was named Wisconsin's Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year for the 2010-11 season. Ever since that first year, Herring has continued to improve little by little to where he is today: the leader of Dave Aranda's defense.
Coming off the best season of his career in which he recorded 17 total tackles, six tackles for loss and four sacks, Herring is no longer in a secondary role for the Badgers following the departure of defensive lineman Beau Allen, now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. His physical style of play will need to be on frequent display from the first game to the last this season, as the Badgers face several opponents that boast a formidable running attack.
Game No. 1 features LSU's hyped freshman running back Leonard Fournette, who accumulated over 5,000 total career rush yards to go along with 72 total touchdowns at St. Augustine High School (Louisiana). That's also not including seniors Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee. Bowling Green running back Travis Greene, who travels to Camp Randall on Sept. 20, is the program's all-time leading rusher and added over 1,500 yards on the ground. Northwestern's Venric Mark is a hot commodity, even though he missed most of last season due to injury, and should be a tough test when Gary Andersen's squad travels to Evanston in the first weekend of October.
Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Iowa's Mark Weisman are some of the premier backs in the Big Ten, and Wisconsin faces them in back-to-back weeks in the middle of November. This, nonetheless, doesn't necessarily equate to Herring doing all of the work and collecting all of the stats by himself, even if defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a has a lot of youthful but talented bodies to work with along the defensive line in addition to the linebackers at the next level.
"We're stout; we're going to be stout," Herring told reporters at Big Ten media day on Monday. "That's just what Wisconsin thrives on -- being tough at the point of attack -- and that starts with the defensive line, so I think we'll be fine at stopping the run."
While Herring didn't directly acknowledge the tough tests he and his defensive teammates will face throughout this year, he did make known the discipline he exhibited this offseason in getting into the best shape possible, which was suggested by the coaching staff. As a result, he had to cut out burgers, pizza and other non-healthy foods. Instead, he "incorporated lean chicken, a lot of salads, a lot of veggies."
No matter what Herring's new diet entails, he's certainly coming into his own as he prepares for his last season in the red and white uniform. Could it be attested to getting better with experience? Absolutely. Could it be attested to that diet? Sure. But what might be the most integral part of his development, especially from last year to this year, is the new game plan and schemes brought forth by Aranda and his defensive staff.
"Last year was my best year, personally. [I] played a little bit more free, got a chance to play outside of myself, meaning from a pass-rushing standpoint," Herring said. "I'm really enjoying it. They let us loose a lot more last year, which was really nice. It was kind of like, 'Whoa, coach is actually going to let us run; he's actually going to let us pass rush.'"
UW freshmen who've redshirted in their first years have long wanted to reach the highest level possible and Herring is no exception. The Belleville East High School (Illinois) product has constantly kept in touch with Allen to get pointers about what to takes to make it to the league. Those discussions largely center around what NFL scouts focus on, as well as the areas they could care less about. Nevertheless, if Herring continues on his upward trend, he'll be joining Allen and other former Badgers on Sundays.
"Every little bit helps," Herring said. "While also, [I] have to focus in on what I have here at the University of Wisconsin, not trying to overshoot anything or foresee things that are further down the road."