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Originally published Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 7:41 PM

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Seahawks promote Will Herring to starting linebacker spot

Will Herring took an unconventional path from high-school option quarterback to college safety to NFL linebacker. He'll replace injured Leroy Hill on Sunday against the 49ers.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

Seahawks @ San Francisco, 1:05 p.m., Ch. 13

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Will Herring made a name for himself as a special-teams maniac since the Seahawks selected him in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL draft.

When you're a backup linebacker, you get work any way you can.

Playing on punts, punt returns, kickoffs and kickoff returns is hard work, but has paid big dividends. It gave Herring a chance to hone his defensive skills.

"I've come a long ways in a short time," said Herring, a three-year starting quarterback at Opelika High School in Alabama and a three-year starting free safety at Auburn.

Exactly how far will be on display Sunday in San Francisco when Herring starts at weakside linebacker for Leroy Hill, who suffered a groin injury last week that will keep him out about five weeks.

In many ways Herring, a third-year veteran, is still learning the position.

"I moved to linebacker my senior year in college, not really knowing the position at all," said the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder. "That first year, I was just running around trying to make plays. But I've learned so much since then. Being here with this great coaching staff we have, I'm so much better now than where I was.

"The game has slowed down for me. And once it slowed down mentally, you start making plays and just let your ability take over."

Herring has 29 career tackles in 24 games despite starting just once. His standout play in exhibitions convinced coach Jim Mora he's the best option to replace Hill.

"He showed he's ready to play," Mora said. "I've said this before: I don't spend a lot of time worrying about who can't play. I just concentrate and focus on getting the guy who can play ready to play and that's what we'll do.

"We're not going to make it a big issue. We're just going to play, and we have a lot of confidence as an organization and players in that locker room that Will will do a great job."

Herring took an unconventional path from an option quarterback to the NFL. He was recruited as a quarterback by small Division I schools, but switched to safety when Auburn offered him a scholarship.

He redshirted as a freshman and started the next three years, including the 13-0 team in 2004. As a senior, Herring moved to strongside linebacker and had 59 tackles and two interceptions.

"Smart and intense," said rookie linebacker Aaron Curry. "That's how I would describe Will."

Herring began the 2008 season on the physically-unable-to-perform list with a joint inflammation condition that caused chronic muscle pulls. He made his only start in the 15th game against the New York Jets and played extensively in the season finale at Arizona, where he tallied a career-high six tackles.

Even though the Seahawks had their worst season in 16 years, Herring said playing last season was invaluable.

"We didn't have anything to play for, so to speak, but guys are playing for their job," he said. "They're playing for pride. And so I'm going to approach this as I approached last year. Those last two games, I knew I'd be out there playing, and that was everything to me. I was treating those games like they were the Super Bowl.

"Having those two games and the experience is definitely a confidence-booster. Just gaining experience is always great. I was more comfortable going into this preseason. Now this opportunity has come about, so I feel more comfortable. I believe in my ability and I believe in the guys next to me. My No. 1 thing is there can't be a letdown. I'm not going to try to do more than my job."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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