BC's Herzlich wraps up spring, previews '09

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, wrapped up another impressive spring and gave a few minutes of his time to talk about how different this year's team is under the new staff.

One thing that hasn't changed is Herzlich, which means, yes, he's still good enough to repeat as the best defensive player in the league. He made nine tackles, one tackle for loss and three pass breakups in last Saturday's Jay McGillis spring game.

Here are the highlights of our conversation:

I saw your numbers in the spring game. Can you tell me just a little bit about how the game went for you?

MH: Well, we played base defense pretty much the whole time. We played Cover 2 and Cover 4 every single play. We never really ran a zone blitz. Basically when the ball came to my side I was able to make plays. I didn't really do anything special. I was just playing the way I usually do.

What makes you so good at grabbing interceptions?

MH: Film study has a lot to do with it. If you know what pass routes the other team does, you can jump them pretty easily. That comes with film study and progression through the game. And also, you have to be able to jam receivers because if you alter their routes then the quarterbacks aren't going to be throwing in the right spot and you can either get the interception or someone else can.

Tell me about your decision to come back. How important is it that you guys are again contending for the Atlantic Division to make it worth wile?

MH: It hadn't really been a tough decision for me to come back here. I only had two-and-a-half years of college and wanted to be with my friends a little longer. I still have a lot of stuff I need to learn about the game of football before I'm ready to move on to the NFL. As far as playing for the championship again, it's the same as every year -- we're not very highly ranked in the ACC, probably. That's how it usually is. We have something to prove every year every time we go out on the field. We have a lot of young guys this year, so it's probably going to be the biggest or most important summer we've had in a long time. To get those guys to a higher level is very important.

How have the staff changes gone for the defensive side? I'm imagining it was a pretty smooth transition?

MH: There basically wasn't any changes on the defensive side. Coach [Bill] McGovern is now the defensive coordinator, and he just basically calls the plays we always had. He still coaches the linebackers, and it's pretty much exactly the same.

Was that an ideal situation for you guys? Did you speak up on behalf of Spaz [head coach Frank Spaziani] and say, yeah, he's the guy, we want him?

MH: Yeah. It came to a point where the interviews were going on and I picked up the phone and called Gene DeFilippo -- we have a good relationship, so I gave him a call -- and I told him how I felt about it and how I thought that Spaz was a great guy and he held the respect of all the players and how he really fit into the role well. Coach Flip said it did have an impact on his decision and I'm glad that I was able to help in a way that benefit the team.

How has Spaz been different either as a coach or toward the players now that he's the head guy?

MH: Well, first of all, practices are a lot longer now and more in-depth. The reason why they're so long right now is because we have so much inexperience that's going to be called on to step up and start next year. We need all the time we can to put in a new offense and get the young guys on defense ready. Also he really is kind of taking a personal hold of the team. Everything runs through him, whether it be disciplinary or academics or football-wise, everything goes through him. You have to answer to him if something happens wrong. He's really taken a whole-hearted interest in the team. That doesn't surprise me. He's been a BC guy through and through for 12 years now.

What are your expectations for the team based on what you've seen of the offense from your side of the ball?

MH: For the offense, they have a really good package. It's back to running the football and using the run to set up the pass. I think it's going to be very beneficial especially with the type of running backs we have and offensive line. Obviously our quarterbacks need to step up and somebody needs to become a leader. Whether you can make all the throws or not, the biggest job a quarterback has is to lead the offense in the right direction.

Defensively, where do you guys need to make the most improvement?

MH: I think it's our overall defensive attitude. With all of the young guys, they don't know how to win yet. They don't what it takes to play in front of 80,000 people in Death Valley. They don't have that attitude yet. That's something the older guys and leaders on the team and coaches are trying to show them and instill in them. There's only one way for them to really figure it out, and that's to actually experience it. We try to get them ready as much as we can for the experience and hopefully by the time it comes game day, they're ready for it.

If there was one thing you had to say as a team -- offense, defense, whatever -- that you have to get done this summer before the first kickoff, what would it be? Quarterbacks?

MH: It's not really one position. I think that everyone needs to come together. I think that's the biggest thing. We need to become one as a team. Over the past couple of years it's been offense this, defense that. The biggest thing we need to do in the offseason is have everybody rely on everybody. We can't have defense winning the games for us. We can't have offense winning the games for us. Every game has to be won by both sides and more importantly not lost by both sides. We can't make stupid mistakes. If we come together and really rely on each other this upcoming year, we'll be able to do that.

Last question for you. How much would it mean to you, and do you even care about possibly repeating as the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year?

MH: It would be great. Coming back, this being my last year, every year I try to outperform my performance from last year. If I do that, then I'll be happy. If somebody performs that much better than me, they deserve the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year. At BC we always play to our own standards. I've got high standards for myself. I almost never can achieve then. But I strive towards that, and it really isn't up to me. I can do what I can do on the field and hopefully that's good enough.