It's no secret that linebacker Mark Herzlich, at one point or another, was a fan favorite amongst most New York Giants faithful. Herzlich’s story of perseverance and triumph has all the makings of a feel good Hollywood flick that would somehow star Matt Damon in one way or another. Unfortunately for Herzlich, sometimes the only story that counts in the NFL is a numerical one called the stat sheet.
Through two games, Herzlich has recorded a less than pedestrian 8 solo tackles, 2 assisted, and a steady dose of 0’s in every other statistical category. In 16 games last year, Herzlich had only 22 solo tackles, 8 assisted, and once again 0’s in all other statistical categories. Some could argue that the 0’s are insignificant if Herzlich was making all the right plays and tackles (which he hasn’t exactly been doing), but it is also an indication that he is often not around the ball or is late getting to the ball in situations where plays can be made, which is especially concerning considering he is situated right in the middle of the field.
Although numbers can be deceiving, in the case of Herzlich, they seem to coincide with the game tape where Herzlich is often seen slow to the hole, having a tough time getting off blocks, and lacking athleticism and strength to stop both the run and cover the pass. The lack of aggression and leadership from the middle linebacker position has hurt the Giants defense thus far. Not exactly the type of production Jerry Reese & Co. had anticipated from Herzlich as he was expected to be the starter coming into the season, setting up Dan Connor to be a solid backup or rotational linebacker.
Though there is nothing wrong with the initial error in player assessment, the larger error would however, lie in not making the proper adjustments once Herzlich’s play has made it clear that he is not currently, nor may ever be, ready to be a starting middle linebacker in this league. Herzlich has been spoon-fed numerous opportunities to seize the starting linebacker position, as many had hoped that in his third year he would be capable of living up to his glorified playing days at Boston College. Unfortunately, all Herzlich has shown has been his ability to lose the starting job to the likes of Chase Blackburn last year and Dan Connor this year.
The Giants are very well aware, and have made it abundantly clear, that this team expects to not only perform at a high level, but also eventually be the first team to host the Super Bowl in their home stadium. With a mentality like that one would assume the Giants' management will aim to rectify the situation sooner rather than later. All signs seem to suggest they are aware of their problem at the middle linebacker position as they have recently brought in former Seahawks linebacker Allen Bradford and worked out another former Seattle linebacker in Leroy Hill, as well as former Giant Jonathan Goff.
Bradford, a former running back who led the Seahawks in tackles throughout the preseason, will likely only see time at the middle linebacker position if the situation gets desperate. Goff, who is coming off two torn ACL’s, would have been just another question mark at the position. Then there’s also another former Giant in Michael Boley, who the team has shown no interest in rekindling ties with. Another potential name of interest could be former Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who is currently serving a four game suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. Dunbar totaled 112 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and two interceptions last season. Free Agency could be one potential answer to the Giants’ middle linebacker problem.
Another possible solution could be what the Giants often do in such situations, and that is look for an in house answer. Regarding the current dilemma one would assume a shuffling of the linebacker corps in which either Keith Rivers or Spencer Paysinger is moved to the middle, while the other plays on the outside with Jacquian Williams. Fortunately the depth is still thin and that alone could force Reese’s hand into a decent acquisition.
There is however, another potential solution the Giants can consider; one that was highlighted by the Colts’ recent trade acquisition Trent Richardson. The Colts running back situation became comparable to that of the Giants' linebacker circumstance in that they too lost a starter for the year, and although Bradshaw is far more skilled at his position than Herzlich is at his, due to chronic injury concerns he is no more reliable for an entire season. Thus with the “win now” attitude the Giants often boast, the Colts made a blockbuster deal to drastically solve their conundrum.
Now sure, it is highly doubtful that the Giants offer any team more than a 5th round pick at best for a linebacker, but that does not mean talent is not available for such late round picks. Former 49ers linebacker Parys Haralson was acquired earlier this season by the Saints for a 7th round pick. Even arguably the current best linebacker on the team, Keith Rivers, was acquired via trade for only a 5th round pick. At the very least the Giants can shop around a 7th round pick and see if anyone bites. Worst case scenario maybe get depth by bringing Kyle Bosworth back as he showed flashes of skill in the preseason and is already acclimated to the playbook. Even Chase Blackburn (currently not the starter in Carolina) at this point would be an upgrade that is feasible for a 7th round pick.
Some may argue to keep the late draft pick in the hopes of finding the next Ahmad Bradshaw; however, it should be noted that acquiring late picks nowadays doesn’t seem to difficult. If the Giants did lose the pick and found someone they wanted they could always trade back into the draft for future picks. There is clearly no shortage of options for the Giants’ management and coaching staff. Their solutions lie in their willingness to concede that a change must be made and their creativity from there on out.
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