Mark Herzlich has said for months that he wants to be one of the Giants' defensive starters. Today, he got to practice with the first unit.
Chase Blackburn was sidelined with a thigh injury, so Herzlich stepped in and worked with the first team. When a second-year pro with scant experience is trying to win a job, are practice reps with the starters more important than those with the reserves he normally works with?
"I think yes and no," Herzlich said after the workout. "Reps are reps, regardless. It's cool getting a feel playing with JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul), playing with (Justin) Tuck, playing with Linval (Joseph). Those guys up front and getting the communication in the back end because it's a little different with every guy. To be able to get a feel for that, I think it's good practice for hopefully in the games."
Herzlich strives for perfection every day, but was particularly cognizant of avoiding miscues today.
"My job is to get them lined up, get them set," Herzlich said. "Give them the play. It's a big detriment to the defense if I mess the starting lineup up. If I do that, then they can't get off the ball and do what they need to do."
Herzlich is much more confident in the middle of the defense than he was a year ago. Signed as a free agent out of Boston College, Herzlich, like all rookies, never got the benefit of an introductory offseason program because of the lockout. He reported to training camp with no knowledge of the Giants' defense.
"Ten days into camp last year, I don't even think I could be out there being perfect with the threes," he said. "It's night and day. It's completely different."
Last year, he played in 11 games with two starts before an ankle injury suffered at New Orleans on Nov. 28 sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Now after an offseason in which he tirelessly worked on both his physical conditioning and his understanding of the defense, Herzlich believes he can challenge Blackburn for the starting middle linebacker job.
"It's all cumulative - you absorb the information as you go," Herzlich said. "I think the minicamp and OTAs were really helpful in terms of seeing stuff. And when you're out on the field, having everything slow down in your vision and seeing what's happening."
So will working with the starters help him become one?
"I have no idea," Herzlich said. "All I can do is do my best on the field. Whether if it's ones, twos or threes, it's up to the coaches who's getting the start. I feel like I'm competing at a high level and trying to make the decision tougher for the coaches."