Mark Herzlich: Lifelong dream to start in NFL

Mark Herzlich | New York Giants

The New York Giants are without a surefire starter at middle linebacker as several candidates set to duel it out during training camp. Find out why third year player Mark Herzlich has been preparing for the opportunity to start in the NFL his entire life.

Mark Herzlich has battled for the starting middle linebacker position since he joined the league and signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2011.

Players in New York are often filled with high expectations by their teammates and the media. If Herzlich is named the starter, he will have great responsibility. Especially since the position has not had a leader at the linebacker position since Antonio Pierce retired in 2010. Everyone knows the superb history the Giants have at the linebacker position and it's always a burden to step into Big Blue's lineup.

Middle linebacker is generally the leader of the defense, so whoever does win the position will have to command a group that has Pro Bowl and Super Bowl experience.

Herzlich is ready for the opportunity. In fact, it has been a lifelong dream of his.

"It's been 25 years in the making," Herzlich said. "It's been my dream my whole life to be a

starting linebacker in the NFL and tasting it here and there my first season and second season, gets you really excited for this opportunity."

Last season Herzlich saw some action on defense and special teams. No. 58 finished with 30 combined tackles but his best game came in the Week nine loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers when he finished with eight total tackles.

Dan Connor, 27, will be Herzlich's main challenger at the position. Connor is trying to get his career back on track after being released by the Dallas Cowboys during the offseason. He also had a run-in with the law during the offseason when he was charged with possession of a weapon at Philadelphia International Airport.

Connor finished with 56 combined tackles in 14 games last season.

"I'm not preparing to beat Dan every practice," Herzlich said about the competition at linebacker. "I'm preparing to be the best middle linebacker that our team needs. I think that's more my philosophy on it and competition is good. Competition helps everyone improve and competition helps getting things correct and I think that without competition, we obviously wouldn't have this sport."

The defense is playing with a chip on their shoulder. They were deemed, along with Eli Manning's turnover woes, as the main culprit for their downfall last season.

"You need a passion," Herzlich said. "It's really tough to play defense when you're just going out there and hoping, but we need to be a little angry."

The spotlight will be on the linebackers heading into preseason. With all three positions up for grabs, it will be interesting to see who steps up and answers the call.

"I haven't had much time to watch any TV lately with all the camp and stuff going on," Herzlich said about the linebackers receiving all the media attention. "We know that things start and end with our linebacking corps and that's very apparent, in any defense at any level. We make the first call, we make the last call and then the play goes on. We need to set the tone right away at the linebacker position and that will get everybody fired up and start to play that physical ball we need to play."

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