Louis Musto, ContributorOn Thursday, the New York Giants placed starting middle linebacker Dan Connor on injured reserve with a neck injury, promptly ending his season.
In his place will be Mark Herzlich, the third-year linebacker out of Boston College whose storied triumph over cancer has propelled his popularity among diehard and casual football fans alike.
Herzlich battled Connor during training camp for the vacant middle linebacker job and, despite popular opinion placing him as the likely suitor, the former BC Eagle was outplayed by Connor and lost the job fair and square. Now, he has the chance to prove himself.
Herzlich made his presence felt in the Giants’ season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, recording six tackles in the loss. There are concerns about him going forward, however.
He’s underwhelming in pass coverage, and as Jason Witten showed this past week, opposing offenses will target him by throwing to the tight end all afternoon. He doesn’t have top-end speed, let alone average speed.
He is a sure tackler; it’s just a matter of him actually getting to the ball carrier to make the play. To date, the 26-year-old simply hasn’t done enough to prove he is a capable NFL starter. His failure to beat out Connor in camp with the job being handed to him on a silver platter only confirmed that fact.
But he is a hard worker, and there is no denying his heart. He’s the prototype for a player of head coach Tom Coughlin’s preference.
Once upon a time, Chase Blackburn was a questionable option at middle linebacker, boasting minimal athletic gifts that made him stand out from the pack. But time to develop, work in the film room and dedication helped him become a fan favorite in New York. Who says the same can’t happen for Herzlich?
Herzlich’s job isn’t safe by any means. Jacquian Williams is waiting in the wings to swoop in and take over. New acquisition Allen Bradford, who was picked up off waivers from the Seahawks this week, could also present a challenge to Herzlich for the middle linebacker role.
Herzlich must seize this opportunity to take that big leap and realize the potential the Giants believe he has inside of him. He must play at the level that had many predicting him as the starter heading into the season.
One mistake in the Giants’ matchup with the Broncos this Sunday and that could be the last chance he’ll get as a starter on the Big Blue defense.
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