AUBURN, Ala. — After nine months off the field because of offseason heel surgery and only a week of preseason practice, Auburn sophomore linebacker Adam Herring simply wanted to contribute any way he could last Saturday against Louisiana Tech.
He did much more than that. Herring started and played more than 50 snaps in the Tigers’ 37-13 win, finishing with two tackles while filling in for the injured Eltoro Freeman at weak-side linebacker.
“In a week of practice you don’t see that pretty often,” said left tackle Lee Ziemba, Herring’s roommate. “That’s pretty remarkable.”
Herring, the son of former Auburn coach and current Dallas Cowboys assistant Reggie Herring, is a sight for sore eyes — and hamstrings — in the linebacking corps, where depth is a major concern. Although walk-on Wade Christopher and freshmen Jonathan Evans and Harris Gaston all got limited playing time near the end of the game, it was Herring who held down the spot in the opener and will likely do so again against Mississippi State this Saturday.
He had his ups and downs last week, getting beat for a touchdown by Louisiana Tech tight end Dennis Morris in the first quarter.
“I peeked back at the ball, and it created a little separation,” Herring said. “I had him covered. I just shouldn’t have peeked back at the ball and should have made that play.”
Nevertheless, it’s a starting point for Herring, who redshirted in 2007 and played 11 games last year, although it was almost exclusively on special teams. Even once Freeman returns, he can provide depth at the weak-side and middle linebacker positions.
“He’s a smart, heady football player that we’ve just got to continue to develop, and he’s just got to keep working here,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “And I know he will. He’s a pretty competitive kid.”
Scratching the surface
Auburn ran at least a dozen snaps out of the Wildcat with decent success last Saturday, but the Tigers think they can get more out of the single-wing formation.
Kodi Burns, the triggerman in the formation, ran the ball eight times for 23 yards and a touchdown. He also handed off to running back Onterio McCalebb on sweeps for a few big gains to the outside.
“I definitely think it has a lot more potential to be better than it was,” Burns said. “Because if you notice, the guys who were tackling either Onterio or me were in the secondary. I guess it’s a pretty good sign we can get on those guys. We just have to be able to make them miss and go all the way. With the Wildcat, I think we’re just scratching the surface.”
Auburn didn’t show off one facet of the formation. Burns, a quarterback who now plays receiver, remains a threat to throw the ball if the opportunity presents itself, adding another dimension.
“Of course he gives us a lot of flexibility, a lot of versatility,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “He can do a lot of things.”
Like old times
Mississippi State running backs coach Greg Knox makes his return to the Plains this weekend. He served as Tommy Tuberville’s wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Auburn the previous 10 years.
Knox was not retained after Gene Chizik was hired last December, instead catching on with Dan Mullen’s staff in Starkville. But he still knows plenty about Auburn’s roster.
“A lot of good talent on that team,” Knox told the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. “Most of those seniors have always been to bowl games. Most of those seniors have always been winners. Matter of fact, that senior class has only had one losing season, so there’s a lot of winners left there. A lot of kids who know how to win.”
Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen has a few connections to the Mississippi State staff. Current MSU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush was a mentor to Thigpen, coaching him when he was a three-time All-ACC linebacker at North Carolina from 1989-92 and later giving Thigpen his coaching start as a graduate assistant in 1998.
Thigpen was also on the same Bowling Green staff as Mullen when Urban Meyer was the head coach in 2001-02.