The Giants' middle linebacker battle

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
2:06
PM ET
Based on the way he performed after they signed him off the street in November, Chase Blackburn came to New York Giants training camp this year as the starting middle linebacker. You intercept Tom Brady in a comeback Super Bowl win, that buys you something. He's going to have to lose that job and/or have it taken away from him based on performance. They're not going to give it to someone else just because they didn't expect Blackburn to perform the way he did last year in their playoff run.

That said, there remains an expectation that Mark Herzlich, the former Boston College superstar who was an undrafted free agent last year because he was still recovering from cancer treatments, will ultimately take over. Herzlich has been earning rave reviews for his performance so far in camp, and in truth he would seem to have the better pedigree given his college achievements before he got sick. But as great a story as it would be to see Herzlich overcome cancer and make it as a starting NFL linebacker, Paul Schwartz writes, Blackburn doesn't want people to forget that his story is a pretty good one, too:
There's a feeling of inevitability here, that it is a matter of time, that Herzlich's youth and talent can't be held back. Blackburn has the experience and no one knows defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s system better. Herzlich is the more explosive athlete.
"Well, I feel like I'm pretty athletic, I feel I'm just fine out there," counters Blackburn. "Obviously I try to use my knowledge to help me, but I don’t think that’s the only tool I have working for me."
"Honestly I feel like we're both smart players, we have the same kind of athletic attributes, feel like we're pretty much the same type of player." Herzlich, polished beyond his years (24) as his health struggle transformed him into a spokesman and inspiration, said he and Blackburn are "great friends off the field, we're obviously great friends on the field, too."

I get this question a lot -- which of these guys will start at middle linebacker. I continue to believe that Herzlich, should he remain healthy and continue to get stronger, is the long-term answer and that he could overtake Blackburn at some point this season. But my expectation is that, four weeks from tonight, at MetLife Stadium, Blackburn will start the regular-season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. I just think he earned that by doing what he did for the Giants last year, and as much as I like Herzlich, it's hard to believe he can do enough in one training camp to close a gap that was created by playoff and Super Bowl performance.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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