Herring turns into safety net Versatile rookie quickly adapts, pays dividends to Ravens

September 20, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

When it's time to tackle a task, Ravens rookie safety Kim Herring has little use for a casual approach.

Faced with high blood pressure years ago, not only did Herring cut out red meat and soda from his diet, but he also began thinking about a post-football career as a nutritionist. When informed he would be switched to defensive back after a fine freshman year as a running back at Penn State, Herring shrugged off the change, revamped his game and became an All-America safety.

At the NFL level, Herring is being tested again. Once again, he is learning as quickly as his feet move.

Take last week's 24-23 victory over the New York Giants. After veteran free safety Rondell Jones aggravated his sore knee and left the game in the first half, Herring stepped in to provide the smarts and production the Ravens envisioned when they drafted him late in the second round.

He played for nearly three quarters, finishing with four tackles and a pass deflection. In addition, he recorded a tackle and an assist on special teams.

"When I first came here," Herring said. "I just wanted to make a contribution. Now, I want to be more than just a contributor. I want to dominate to the point where teams have to account for me on every play. In my eyes, I've played pretty well, but I haven't come close to what I can do."

In the game of catch-up that confounds nearly all rookies at this level, Herring appears to be ahead of the typical learning curve. He said that, if needed, he could start at either safety position now.

A muscular, 5 feet 11, 210 pounds with good quickness, he certainly has the physical tools. The Ravens also love his aggressiveness, as he's not shy about throwing his body around. Then there are his instincts.

In the closing minutes of the season-opening, 28-27 loss to Jacksonville, Herring laid a perfect tackle on running back Natrone Means. As his shoulder drove into Means, his helmet landed squarely on the ball, forcing a fumble the Ravens recovered.

"People have already asked me if I have a knack for doing that," Herring said. "At Penn State, we were taught to look at the ball and put your face on the ball [when you make the tackle]. It's an everyday thing to me."

The Ravens like Herring's everyday approach to his occupation.

"He came in and learned our system right away, and he's done everything they've asked of him. He's always cramping up in practice. That's because he's always out there working hard," veteran safety Bennie Thompson said.

"Kim keeps progressing," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "He's an athletic, aggressive player who understands the game. Both of the guys in front of him [veteran safeties Stevon Moore and Jones] are playing well, but we're confident that Kim can step in and take hold of a spot if something happens to either one of them. He has already proven that."

After playing four years in the Big Ten and in high-profile games like the Rose Bowl, Herring is not fazed by much. A native of Detroit who spent his teen-age years in Cleveland -- no, he was never a serious Browns fan -- he caught the eyes of college recruiters with his speed and versatility as an all-Ohio tailback and safety at Solon High.

After a season as a reserve tailback at Penn State, the Nittany Lions switched him to safety.

"It was tough mentally at first," Herring said. "I had to change my whole mentality. You've got to come out and kill somebody all the time on defense. But once I started playing defense, I noticed I wasn't as sore."

He intercepted seven passes, the most at Penn State in 18 years, and was an All-America choice as a senior, improving his draft stock. The Ravens said they were stunned that he was available as the 58th overall choice.

Herring has no doubt he has only begun to justify their faith.

"I just want to get the coaches thinking that anytime I get in the game, something good will happen," he said. "I think I'm doing that. My time will come."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Tennessee Oilers

Site: Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.

When: 1 p.m. tomorrow

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Oilers by 3 1/2

Pub Date: 9/20/97

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