The team signed veteran free agent Dan Connor, but Herzlich was the No.1 middle linebacker throughout OTAs and mini-camp. It's a role he believes he's capable of fulfilling and does not plan on giving it up anytime soon
"I think it’s mine to secure," Herzlich said after mini-camp Thursday. "I don’t think anyone is handing anybody anything, but I feel like if I work hard and play well, then I have a good shot at hopefully making a difference for the team."
The former Boston College standout, who then came out victorious in a hard-fought bout with cancer, racked up 30 tackles last year as a reserve linebacker. Fourteen of those tackles alone came in the month of December.
While Herzlich in a starting role is new to him at the professional, it's a position not unfamiliar to his main competition.
Connor, who began his career with the Carolina Panthers and played last year for the Dallas Cowboys, has registered at least 47 tackles in each of the last three seasons, including 75 in his final year with the Panthers in 2011.
The issue with Connor is not his talent; it's his health. The backer has played in all 16 regular-season games just once in his career (2009). And Herzlich realizes securing the starting gig will be no easy task.
"I think that Dan has been playing awesome, to be completely honest," Herzlich said. "I think he’s a great player and I think he can make a big impact on this team this year as well. I obviously still want to be that number one guy, but it’s really whatever is best at that time for the team."
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been pleased with Herzlich thus far.
Fewell would not make comparisons between Herzlich, getting his first crack at starting in the NFL, and Blackburn, a longtime contributor on the New York Giants and the team's leading tackler in 2012. He did say, however, Herzlich is doing a fine job modeling his game after his former teammate.
"Chase was really a seasoned veteran and Mark is a veteran. Not as seasoned, but I do think that Chase did a nice job in training him and he did a nice job in their communication with calls and the nuances of the defense," Fewell said.
"(Herzlich has) taken a leadership role out there and I think he has some good respect from his teammates in some of the things he’s done in the OTAs. Obviously, we want to find out what happens when the pads come on."
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