Herring to play key role vs. Jets Ravens: The second-year safety will assume the duty of calling defensive coverages.

August 14, 1998|By Ryan Basen | Ryan Basen,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Ravens free safety Kim Herring is a fast learner.

He never played football until he was in high school, but he excelled, earning honors as both a running back and safety.

In college, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound player started off as a tailback at Penn State until coach Joe Paterno asked him to switch to safety before his sophomore year. He reluctantly obliged and started five games, then made second-team All-American as a senior.

As a second-round draft pick of the Ravens in 1997, Herring was not expected to start during his rookie year. But he progressed rapidly and became a regular when starter Rondell Jones went down with an injury in late November.

He played well in relief of Jones, with 22 tackles and one sack in four starts.

Herring has learned a lot, and now he is teaching as well as calling coverages in the secondary for the injured Stevon Moore.

"Losing Stevon was a big loss for us, but we have young guys who can step up and take his place," said Herring. "I can't worry about the problems we're having, I just have to go with the flow and play my game. I'll be asked to call most of the coverages for the secondary but that won't be hard for me. I already called some of the plays anyway."

The secondary continues to struggle and faces more problems with the loss of Moore, the strong safety, for at least the remainder of the preseason with a separated shoulder. In Moore's absence, Herring will be counted on more than any other defensive back to fill the void of leadership.

"I don't feel any extra pressure," Herring said. "I put more pressure on myself to perform than any coaches, fans and media do. I am a fast learner."

He believes he is well prepared to handle the free safety job, regardless of who lines up in the defensive backfield with him. Tomorrow against the New York Jets, it's Ralph Staten, Rod Woodson, and DeRon Jenkins. In a month he could be starting along with Moore, Jones, or Duane Starks. Herring and Woodson are the only constants.

"It almost seemed like I started most of last season because I played at least three quarters of every game before I started the last four," said Herring, who finished his rookie season with 51 tackles, plus 10 more on special teams. "I'm ready now. I don't feel any extra pressure on me this year as a starter. I know my role with this team and I feel very comfortable with the defensive system. That's a plus for me and my teammates."

Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis also feels Herring is ready for new responsibilities.

"We're ready to let Kim go out there. He's a very fine athlete. He's a good tackler and an intelligent person," Lewis said. "He's much more comfortable in the defense than he was last year. He can read plays and react quicker. With Stevon [Moore] out, he has to be more assertive on the field, take control of the secondary. I think he's ready."

Herring says Lewis' system is easy to learn because Penn State played a similar scheme, but injuries and holdouts have made this a difficult training camp overall for the Ravens' secondary.

The unit was rarely tested by an anemic Bears offense last week. With former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde starting tomorrow's game for the Jets, the secondary could be in for a long night.

"They do more three- and four-wide-out sets than most teams do," Jenkins said. "We'll see some things that we haven't yet. We need to play well and not make any mistakes."

Neither Jenkins nor Starks believes Moore's absence will be as devastating as it appears against the Jets.

"Stevon is our leader so now somebody else has to step up and take his spot," Jenkins said.

"It's not like other guys don't know what to do without him," Starks said. "This is just another obstacle for us and we have to work through it."

Jenkins knows he can count on Herring for leadership without Moore on the field. "Kim's very intelligent," he said. "He picks up on the defense well and doesn't make many mistakes. That helps us out a lot, especially with him playing free safety. Kim doesn't play like a second-year guy most of the time. He seems older."

Herring is excited about facing the Jets and Testaverde, hoping it will be the start of an excellent season.

"We know what we can do. Now it's a matter of testing ourselves against New York," Herring said. "They will throw the ball a lot and make our guys really show what they can do.

"I've been working hard in practice every day to get better and solidify my position as a starter. I think we'll have a better defense in 1998 because we'll be more consistent. It starts this weekend. I want to be more consistent and be chilling in Hawaii [at the Pro Bowl] in February. I set high goals for myself. Why not shoot for the moon?"

Pub Date: 8/14/98

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