Arguably the most vital role on defense is in the hands of the undrafted for the Super Bowl champs.
While no depth chart has been released, two training camp practices provided a look at where the linebackers stand, specifically in the middle.
From first to third team, Chase Blackburn, Mark Herzlich, and Jake Muasau are quarterbacking the defense in Albany. And none were ever labeled as a draft choice, making their kinship twofold.
"They're also playing middle linebacker, so obviously I have that kind of bond," Blackburn said on Saturday. "But I've always had that for undrafted free agents. I was one of them… and [I'm] just trying to help them learn what they need to do to stay in this league and to get better and have an opportunity to keep that chip on your shoulder and prepare every day, prepare like a starter and fight for a spot even if they are fighting for my spot."
Blackburn, the vet of the group who wasn't selected in 2005 out of Akron, is simply paying it forward to Herzlich, undrafted in 2011, and Muasau, a rookie. After all, he cut his teeth under former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce – another member of the undrafted fraternity.
"I was here with him for numerous years and he was that kind of guy -- he was a film study guy," Blackburn said of Pierce, a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl XLII champion. "He knew the playbook in and out. He could play any position if he got thrown in. Maybe athletic-wise we wouldn't be the best fit for a cornerback or whatever, but we know what they're going to do. I think it helps you when you have a better grasp of the whole defense."
That mastery led to Blackburn's storybook return in 2011, which culminated in Super Bowl XLVI with an interception off Tom Brady. Blackburn was back home in Ohio through the first 12 weeks of last season and was re-signed by the Giants when the team's linebacking corps was hit with injuries.
Through it all, Blackburn welcomes the competition this season.
"I don't think it's strange. I think it's football," he said. "I feel like every year I wasn't the starter, I was trying to get the starting spot. So I was competing for it, and I felt like it was always an open competition. And I feel like every position is pretty much up for grabs other than Eli's."