A typical NFL defense sees more than a thousand plays per season. Before the bye, linebackers like Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka were on pace to virtually play all of them.
Time for some new – and young – blood.
Linebackers coach Jim Herrmann said as much last week, and he'll be looking to rookies Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich to share the load for the first time.
"I think as we go here in the next 10 games of the season you'll see more and more of those guys defensively because you just can't ask one guy to take…all of those snaps. Your body won't last," Herrmann said. "Now that they're getting experience, they've been on the field, they know what the speed is, they'll be able to get out there and play a little bit. I'm looking forward to it. I think they'll all do very well because they're all smart guys."
Both Paysinger and Herzlich have been cutting their teeth solely on special teams so far, playing as many as 20 snaps a game. Each has a pair of special teams tackles, and Paysinger said the two can expect around a dozen plays on defense (in addition to special teams) as the second half of the season approaches.
"I feel like myself and Mark Herzlich, I think we're ready to get in, get some snaps," Paysinger said. "I'm not saying taking a lot of snaps away from Michael Boley or Kiwi or anything. But say if they're tired, they can't play 70, 80, 90 plays a game. So just hopefully we get to go in there for maybe seven to 10 plays a game, just to give them a breather."
On a linebacking unit with four rookies, draft picks Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams have already taken on major roles in the first six games. Jones, who has started in three of them, has 16 total tackles while Williams, who has one start, is fourth on the team with 35 tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
Now Herzlich and Paysinger have the opportunity to see what they can do with some live reps.
"(Coach Herrmann has) mentioned to us we'll be getting reps in practice and everything," Paysinger said. "Pretty much based on practice, he'll see if he's comfortable with putting us in the game. In practice, that's where trust is built. So for the most part, he said, 'Keep working in practice and we'll work you guys into the game.' And even if they don't, we just always have to be ready."
A former linebacker at Michigan, Herrmann has been perfecting the development of young backers in nearly three decades of coaching.
"To me, coaching young players -- and I've done it my whole life -- you start very small and detailed," Herrmann said. "Say, 'Okay, you cover that man.' Two more weeks, 'Okay you're covering that man, but pay attention to his alignment and who's next to him and now you can start to guess the routes. Once you get to that level, now you can fake a blitz over here to help us out and then go cover that guy.' It's a step-by-step process for all of them. They'll all do well and that's where they are right now. They're very focused in on simple tasks and now they'll open it up as the season goes."
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