Linebacker Mark Herzlich has a new number and is learning the tight end position:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Mark Herzlich never took a snap on offense until the final play of his junior season at Conestoga High School in Pennsylvania.
"We were on the minus two-yard line and ran a fullback belly, and I ran 98 yards for a touchdown," Herzlich said today. "I went back to my coach and said, 'Next season, you better give me the ball more.'"
Coach John Vogan complied, and Herzlich did a lot of what he calls "fullback stuff" as a senior, including catch passes out of the backfield. But linebacker was his primary position, and it remained so throughout his career at Boston College and his first six seasons with the Giants.
But this year, Herzlich might get another chance to contribute on offense. He has changed his jersey number from 94 to 44. And though he remains predominantly a linebacker in spring drills, he is learning the tight end position.
"I think of myself as a tight end and a linebacker," Herzlich said. "It's kind of like if you're starting this week at middle (linebacker) and then starting next week at SAM, you still have to know all the stuff as if you're playing either one of them. For me, you go into work and you have to be fully prepared at tight end, fully prepared at linebacker, and know all the skillsets and details. That was one of the reasons for the number change. I don't have to report eligible all the time. It's a commitment on my end that I'm fully both things. I hope I can do those well."
The Giants have bolstered their tight end group this season by signing former Minnesota Viking Rhett Ellison and selecting Mississippi's Evan Engram in the first round of the NFL Draft. Now Herzlich has joined the group as a part-timer.
"It's going to be awesome to add another dimension to our game, whatever that is," he said. "That's what's going to be best for our team. The most options, the most variability for a defense to be thrown off. I think that's really what the coach was looking at that."
Like all coaches, Ben McAdoo prefers versatile players. So he was encouraging when Herzlich approached him about playing both sides of the ball – in addition to special teams, where he has long been one of the Giants' most consistent players.
"I was like, 'Hey, I can learn it,'" said Herzlich, who joined the Giants as a rookie free agent in 2011. "He has the idea that if you are a JPP, you know you're a D-end. For the majority of guys on the team, the ability to do more than one thing is really beneficial to not only the player, but the team in general. I think that's something that he believes to his core. I told him, I would like to learn some more of the tight end stuff. He was open to it.
"It was just to make myself more versatile, and to be able to help the team. I've been doing a lot of scout team tight end over the past couple of years, just because we were down in numbers during the season. I was learning little by little as I was going. I've been learning the offense, bits and pieces as I was going. This offseason, I met with coach and it was basically, 'OK, you know the defense, we'll take a couple days out of the week and you can come over and learn the offense so you can possibly help in that end.' It's all about right now, giving myself the best opportunity to help the team in all three phases."
Herzlich is not a complete offensive neophyte. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Herzlich had one snap on offense in 2013, and two in 2015.
But now he has the challenge of learning the terminology of the team's offense, while retaining everything he knows about the defensive and special teams schemes.
"It's a whole new understanding of the game of football," Herzlich said. "I'm definitely still a defensive player. I have a defensive mindset. It's interesting. It's really an opportunity to expand my knowledge as to why things are done. You always have to learn the what first. You have to learn what you're doing. Then, as you evolve your knowledge, you learn why. You learn the offense stuff and look back at the defense stuff and you realize, 'This is why we do some of this stuff.' This has been great. It's been a challenge. I came in basically knowing nothing. I knew what we called routes on defense, but that's different than what the offense calls routes. Blocking schemes and other things. It's a challenge, but I'm excited about it."
And he looks good in that No. 44 jersey.
"In high school I was 22," he said. "I don't know why I like even numbers, but from 94 it was easy to switch to 44; I only had to change one of my numbers. It doesn't have any real significance to me. It was a 40 number that was available. Now, you make new significance of it."
Herzlich has attended defensive meetings and practices, and is studying the offense at home, and calls tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride with questions. Herzlich is confident he will be able to play offense, defense, and special teams in regular-season games.
"I can see that happening," he said. "My role has been in a backup position at linebacker. Depending on who's healthy and who's not (will determine) the amount of play that I get at that position. I think that that is the same thing this year. If I'm a guy who will service an injured person there, playing six or seven plays on defense, playing however many plays on offense and playing special teams, that's doable stuff. I think the ability to have options is what this is about right now. Just providing the team options to use me.
"It's just about providing this team with the best opportunities to win. Honestly, that's all I care about, especially at this point in my career. People don't usually go into year seven looking to change positions. I just want another ring. I got one my rookie year and I feel like we can get one. Whatever I can do to help that process happen, I'll do it."