PHOENIX – Mark Herzlich hasn't met Steve Spagnuolo, but he knows much about him and looks forward to working with the Giants' new defensive coordinator.
Herzlich has talked to Mathias Kiwanuka, the one Giants defender remaining from Spagnuolo's first stint with the team in 2007-08, and fellow linebacker Jameel McClain, who was with the Baltimore Ravens when Spagnuolo was a defensive assistant there in 2013. Spagnuolo was Baltimore's assistant head coach/secondary coach this season.
"I talked to a couple of guys about how he was and I'm excited for how he's going to be this year," said Herzlich, who is making promotional appearances here prior to Super Bowl XLIX. "(They) said he is a strict coach. He is a lot like (head coach Tom) Coughlin, is what I've got the feeling for. He wants things done a certain way, but he knows how to communicate well with his players and he'll kind of tell you straight to your face how you're doing and you need to improve or you're doing well. You're not going to be guessing on what the coaches think of you, which is good."
Although excited for a fresh start, Herzlich was sorry to see former coordinator Perry Fewell leave the organization. Fewell was the Giants' coordinator for five years, and Herzlich was there for the last four of those seasons. In 2014, he had his most productive season. Herzlich played in 15 games (missing the victory at Tennessee with a concussion) with career-high totals of eight starts, 47 tackles (31 solo) and his first pro sack in the finale vs. Philadelphia.
"I loved Perry," Herzlich said. "I thought he was awesome for my development as a player. He was nurturing and gave some tough love, but that's kind of how it goes. I wasn't surprised to see him go, just because of the season we had. I feel badly that we didn't perform up to his expectations. I was sorry to see him go. I'm also sorry to see (secondary/cornerbacks) coach (Peter) Giunta go. He was a guy that was fantastic and really brought positive energy to every meeting, every practice. The coaches replacing them have big shoes to fill, but they'll do it."
The Giants' linebackers are a particularly close-knit group. They frequently share information, check in with each other or plan social engagements via group texts. Devon Kennard, McClain and Herzlich have been semi-regular visitors to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center since the season ended.
"We're still texting each other," Herzlich said. "We see each other a lot now. We're friends. I think that's one thing that came out of the season is we've got our end of the year linebacker party and all the guys were there. Coach (Jim) Herrmann was there, all of the wives, so it became more of a family-type atmosphere than it has been in the past."
When it was announced that Fewell wouldn't return, the group members speculated who might replace him.
Photos from Mark Herzlich's tenure with the Giants.
"The first month people are just excited to have their body feel better and then I think we were up in the air," Herzlich said. "We wanted to just know who was going to be the defensive coordinator and what to expect. It makes you look forward to spring ball, knowing that there's going to be a new challenge and hopefully we'll watch some film before then to get a feel for the defense.
"I think it's exciting to get in there at the ground level and really start to figure out the defense in his brain. Because when a defense is already in place and you come on to a team, then you're learning what everybody else has already learned. But now you're going to learn together with everyone from the very beginning, and I think that's exciting. (Spagnuolo) has been very successful. He's been very successful with the Giants. It's just fun. Every now and then you need to change it up a little bit to get some new energy and some new excitement and I think we're going to have that."
The offense had it last year, when Ben McAdoo became the offensive coordinator. After some early growing pains, the offense finished the season ranked10th in the NFL. The Giants scored at least 24 points in each of the last six games, their longest such streak since 1963.
"The offense went through it last year and there were some ups and downs throughout the season, for sure," Herzlich said. "But the way things progressed and the way the offense is shaping up next year - I keep dreaming about Victor (Cruz) and Odell (Beckham Jr.) on the field at the same time - it's going to be fun."
This year, the defense hopes to join the party.
*Herzlich's thoughts on the Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl:
"I think it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks respond because they played, in my opinion, terribly (in the NFC Championship Game) and they should have lost," he said. "If they can't stop (running back) LaGarrette Blount, then I don't think they have a chance. That was the main factor, in my opinion, in the Patriots-Colts game; LeGarrette Blount just ran over everybody. I think the Seahawks defense is going to be ready to go, but I think Russell (Wilson) had a zero quarterback rating in the first half last week. He won't do that again, but I don't think he'll have enough to beat the Patriots."