With the departure of Chase Blackburn, New York Giants middle linebacker Mark Herzlich will compete for the starting spot in training camp.
The Giants signed former Dallas Cowboys LB Dan Connor to replace Blackburn, but his unfamiliarity with the defensive scheme gives Herzlich a leg up entering camp. During New York’s OTAs last week, Herzlich lined as the starting middle linebacker alongside Keith Rivers and Spencer Paysinger.
Connor will have his chance to earn the spot as he grows comfortable in Perry Fewell’s defense, but for now the Giants are moving forward with Herzlich on the first team defense.
In order to win the starting job, Herzlich must improve against the run, an area that Blackburn struggled in throughout last season. The Giants allowed 129.1 rushing yards per game, seventh-worst in the NFL.
Last season, Herzlich recorded 30 tackles while playing in backup role behind Blackburn and Michael Boley. The Giants signed the Boston College product as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2011 season.
Herzlich made an immediate impact on special teams, but suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss the final five regular season games and the Giants’ Super Bowl run.
The 2013 season marks another chapter and step forward in Herzlich’s remarkable story. In May 2009, Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Herzlich, who almost lost his leg to the disease, sat out the following season at BC. In 2010, Herzlich heroically returned to the field cancer-free.
Herzlich had gone from a cancer patient to Super Bowl champion and now will get his chance to start at middle linebacker for the Giants.
Regardless of who wins the starting job, both Connor and Herzlich will play essential roles in the middle of the Giants’ defense this season.