ALBANY -- If Mark Herzlich had not gotten hurt in the game against the Saints last year, the Giants might never have re-signed Chase Blackburn. If the Giants had not gone on a six-game winning streak and elected not to disrupt their formula, Herzlich might have returned to the field from that ankle injury sooner. If all of that had happened, Herzlich might be entering this training camp as the starting middle linebacker.
"It's all hypothetical," he said Sunday. "But yes, that could be possible."
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Here's something not hypothetical: Herzlich could wind up the Giants' starting middle linebacker. Not when they start camp, but at a more important time: when they leave it.
He's been playing with the second team and has looked like a much more mature and polished player than he was as a rookie in 2011.
"He's moving well, he's focused and physical," Tom Coughlin said. "He doesn't appear to have any issue other than wanting to have more time on the field . . . He's seeing more. He's got a better feel for the ball and how to react and what he's supposed to be doing. He can relate to it."
Herzlich showed his improvement in pass coverage Saturday when he dropped back and shadowed tight end Adrien Robinson all the way to the sideline, where he was able to intercept a tipped ball and keep two feet in bounds. He was active again Sunday, breaking up a pass for Bear Pascoe. He also played some outside linebacker.
But as of now, Herzlich still is Blackburn's backup.
"It's something that just kind of falls into place," Herzlich said. "We try to do the best we can. We encourage each other and learn from each other. I think that's how the whole linebacker room works, really. Chips will fall where they may and we root for the best for each other."
Veteran LBs Keith Rivers and Michael Boley missed practice with hamstring issues. Coughlin said they could miss a few days but did not seem too concerned . . . Rookie WR Rueben Randle spent the last part of practice with his pads and shirt off and a wet towel over his shoulders. "Just ran out of gas," Coughlin said . . . The Giants practiced for the first time on grass, which pleased Coughlin, who has been struggling to get them on fields in the rain in Albany . . . The Giants will have their first padded practice Monday. The players are off Tuesday.