Herzlich ready for his 'big opportunity'

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich will replace Chase Blackburn (hamstring) at middle linebacker Sunday and could make his first start of the year -- and third of his career -- when Big Blue takes on the Steelers.

“It’s a big opportunity for me,” Herzlich said. “It’s an important opportunity and it’s fun. You get the opportunity to go out there and play against an opponent like the Steelers and it’s fun. You have to make the most of every snap.”

Herzlich, an undrafted free agent the Giants signed last year, is seemingly being groomed to be the team’s middle linebacker of the future. He’s likely going to start since the team has used Blackburn in its opening defensive formation each game, but the team could choose to use a different package.

The linebacker has been studying under the tutelage of Blackburn, who will miss his first game of the season. Blackburn injured his hamstring in last week’s game against Dallas and did not practice all week. Herzlich has only played 15 defensive snaps this season.

“Chase pushes me. It’s good,” Herzlich said. “I like that because we play off each other, we feed off each other, and I’ve learned so much from him that you could never learn from a coach ... hopefully (I can) go out there and kind of fill his shoes well ... whenever he comes back he’ll probably get the spot again but (I've) got to do what I can well while I’m in there.”

Last season, the Giants started Herzlich in two games in the middle of the season against Philadelphia and New Orleans, but the linebacker suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Saints that sidelined him for the rest of the year. Coincidentally, his injury led to the team bringing back Blackburn, who has been a steady presence in the lineup since.

Herzlich said he’s been ready all season for the opportunity and is excited to get out there. He has two tackles, as he's been primarily used on special teams. The linebacker isn’t sure how his work at middle linebacker will affect his special teams work for the weekend.

“To come back and get an opportunity to go back on the field, I know it’s going to happen at some point, just happens to be the week it’s coming,” Herzlich said. “It’s just about making plays and having fun. That’s what football comes down to since you’re eight years old. You make plays, you have fun, you get a win and that makes it all the much better.”

The first time Herzlich suited up for the Giants came on Sept, 11, 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks that devastated the nation. Sunday, Herzlich expects there will be similar emotions to that first game in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“You felt that emotion that day in Washington and I think that when we're on the field this Sunday, you’re going to feel that emotion again,” Herzlich said. “This is a strong country and everybody in the stadium, whether they’re Pittsburgh fans or New York fans, they’re going to be pulling for the people who are fighting back from the storm.”