Friday, November 18, 2011
Updated: November 19, 2:44 PM ET
Herzlich could get his shot vs. Eagles
By Ohm Youngmisuk
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mark Herzlich showed up in the New York Giants locker room this week with a freshly shaven Mohawk.
"[Tyler] Sash and I decided we weren't going to cut our beards for November so I figure if I am bringing my beard back, the Mohawk was coming back so why not for the Eagles game."
Herzlich sported the Mohawk when he was one of the nation's best linebackers at Boston College. And this Sunday night against the Eagles -- a team he grew up rooting for while living near Philadelphia -- there's a good chance Herzlich may see his first defensive snaps at linebacker for the Giants.
With linebacker Michael Boley nursing a hamstring injury and unable to practice, the Giants took a long look at their young linebackers all week. If Boley is unable to play, the Giants could fill Boley's role by committee as they did last week against San Francisco when rookies Greg Jones and Spencer Paysinger took turns trying to fill in for the injured Boley.
If Herzlich plays at linebacker, it would be another milestone moment in his comeback from Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer he beat after missing all of the 2009 season at BC.
"They are rotating a lot of guys in right now," Herzlich said. "I'm eager. It is all about getting that one shot and seizing it. Whenever that occurs for me -- I'm confident that will occur at some point -- I will be ready."
Replacing Boley will not be easy. He relays the defensive calls in the huddle, makes sure every player is lined up correctly and is the Giants' best and lone every-down linebacker, who is second on the team in tackles (57).
"He's basically the voice of the defense," safety Kenny Phillips said.
Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell praised Jones and Paysinger for their effort. Both took turns playing alongside Mathias Kiwanuka or rookie Jacquian Williams, depending on the defensive package utilized by Fewell, who largely uses two linebackers with three safeties.
But the Giants lost 27-20 to the 49ers because San Francisco scored two touchdowns in 61 seconds in the fourth quarter. Jones lost tight end Vernon Davis across the middle on a 31-yard touchdown catch, and after an Eli Manning interception, running back Kendall Hunter scored on a 17-yard touchdown run virtually untouched on the left side.
The Giants have spent the week prepping their rookie linebackers for more playing time, which they say will help. Fewell also says he will have a veteran wear the helmet with a headset to relay plays into the huddle so that the rookies won't be overloaded.
"Right now, this is our chance to prove that even though we are rookie linebackers, we can play," Paysinger said.
In their 29-16 win over the Eagles in Week 3, the Giants used Williams for his speed against Michael Vick, and the rookie earned a regular role with a game-high nine tackles.
If Herzlich makes his debut on Sunday night trying to stop LeSean McCoy, few will be rooting as hard for him as his fellow rookie linebackers.
Herzlich, Jones, Williams and Paysinger all battled in training camp for a roster spot and now are friends who pull for each other to be successful, even if it may mean less playing time for themselves.
"In the beginning, we didn't know who was going to end up staying [after] training camp," Jones said.
Because the Giants struggled on special teams last season and wanted to get more athletic and quicker, Coughlin and Jerry Reese kept the four linebackers to improve the team's kick coverage and grow as prospects.
Due to season-ending injuries to Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim, the Giants had to play Williams and Jones -- both sixth-round picks -- ahead of schedule. Williams, the speedy and raw linebacker from South Florida, has seen the most regular playing time of all the rookies.
All four have helped improve the special teams units and clearly the Giants feel comfortable enough with them.
"I think when we lost Goff early in camp, walking in the [linebackers] room and looking around, I was kind of shocked -- not a lot of veterans in here," Kiwanuka said. "Watching how the young guys have responded, I'm impressed."
The four rookies have bonded, spending pretty much eight hours or more with each other daily at the facility. On road trips, Jones and Williams room together while Herzlich shares a room with Paysinger.
Jones, the run-stopping middle linebacker from Michigan State, is a big video gamer who is always looking to challenge anybody at just about any game whether it be Madden, FIFA soccer or Batman Arkham City.
Paysinger -- a former high school wide receiver who played at Oregon -- is nicknamed "Hollywood" by Williams because of his personality and Los Angeles roots.
Williams is the silliest of the four, to the point thatJones and Herzlich still have trouble figuring out when he's being serious.
"For a long time I thought he was sarcastic all the time," Jones said with a chuckle. "Sometimes he jokes around that it is somebody's birthday. He is so good at making people believe it. And it's not. For a while, we would be like, what is wrong with this guy?"
And then there's Herzlich, the oldest of the four at 24 and an inspiration to his teammates for all that he has overcome. Herzlich hopes he'll get a chance against Philadelphia to show he can stop the run and cover like he did in 2008, before Ewing's, when he was one of the top linebackers in college football.
"That is one of the things that I really excelled at in 2008," Herzlich said about playing the run and pass. "And I think they are seeing it now too. I know one of the reasons why I went undrafted was the fact that my performance in 2010 wasn't really up to the 2008 performance.
"I feel like I'm back to where I'm ready to compete at a high level."
Herzlich and his fellow rookie linebackers hope to eventually prove that they can be the next wave of great Giants linebackers to follow the legacy left behind by Pro Bowl linebackers Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks and Pepper Johnson.
"I like to look at the history, I see that with Lawrence Taylor, they had their four guys," Williams said. "I see those four guys made history, they are known for being those four guys.
"I think one day we can be like those guys."