EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich is preparing this week as if he will be the team's starting middle linebacker against the Steelers on Sunday. Starter Chase Blackburn injured his hamstring Sunday against the Cowboys and left the game in the second half. His status for Sunday is not known.
"I'm always prepared to go in if need be," Herzlich said, "but the practice preparation will be a lot different, getting the snaps during practice and getting mentally and physically more prepared to get in the game."
Herzlich, a second-year undrafted free agent who is primarily used on special teams, has only played 15 defensive snaps this year, but did play a season-high seven Sunday. Last year, he started two games during the middle of the season, but suffered a high-ankle sprain that would eventually knock him out the rest of the season.
Blackburn started all eight games at middle linebacker this season and has come up with some big plays, but it could be challenging for him to get back in time to face Pittsburgh. The veteran won the middle linebacker job out of training camp and has been complimented by his coaches and teammates for being a key reason to the defense's success.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said last week he believes Herzlich will be a good linebacker in the future because he has learned from Blackburn.
"He's obviously studied and been in the same room as Chase and knows a lot of those mannerisms," Coughlin said Wednesday. "If Chase is able to go, fine, but if he's not able to go I'm sure he'll be a big help to Mark this week. "
"I'm excited for every game," Herzlich said, "but also when I've been waiting a long time for this opportunity. If it's showing its head right now, then I'm going to make the most of it."
Blackburn has had the responsibility of aligning the defense, wearing the headset to receive the calls, and someone else on the defense will have to handle that duty if he's out. That decision will be made by the coaches, and won't be made until game day, but it's a task Herzlich would welcome.
"I can listen to calls and repeat them. I know I can do that," Herzlich said. "Hopefully I will have that responsibility as well."