Chase Blackburn went from the couch to starting for the Giants against the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 14 last season, but according to linebackers coach Jim Hermann, there’s still a competition to see who the starting “Mike” will be this season.
“I think there’s always competition throughout,” Hermann told reporters on Monday.
A season ago the Giants lost starter Jonathan Goff to an ACL tear before using rookies Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich at middle linebacker and ultimately bringing back the veteran Blackburn to hold down the spot for the remainder of the season.
It was Herzlich’s ankle injury in late November that opened the door for Blackburn. Now the two are the most-likely candidates to start in the middle on Sept. 5 against the Cowboys.
“He’s obviously advanced from last year,” Blackburn said of Herzlich. “He’s looked good on special teams, and he’s looked good at the mike.”
Blackburn isn’t just being nice. Herzlich, who overcame cancer to make the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2011, is beginning to show the athleticism he displayed at Boston College before undergoing a lengthy treatment for the disease.
Herzlich still primarily practices with the second-team defense, but when Blackburn sat on Saturday to rest a sore thigh, Herzlich moved up with the first team.
Naturally, Blackburn was eager to return to practice on Monday because he knows he’s giving away opportunities every time he sits.
“When I was young, I took advantage of every opportunity that I had,” Blackburn said. “When (former Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce) would be out, I’d try and take advantage of every rep I could get. He’s doing the same thing. He’s trying to take as many reps as he can get.”
The sad truth is, the Giants probably have too many linebackers. And since they mostly utilize two linebackers in the often-used sub package, there’s even less opportunities than there would normally be.
“It’s a numbers game and we have 10 linebackers right now, and not too many teams take 10 linebackers,” Herzlich said. “If someone does leave the team then hopefully they will get picked up by someone else.”
In terms of his battle with Herzlich during training camp, Blackburn is coming off the better season (26 postseason tackles and an interception in the Super Bowl) while Herzlich appears to be the more athletic of the two.
But if we’ve learned anything from 2011, it’s that the Giants will need more than one “Mike” if they’re to have a prolonged Super Bowl run.
For more Giants news and notes stay up with Alex Raskin on Twitter @CBSSportsNFLNYG.