Perry Fewell spoke to the media to conclude the Giants’ three-day minicamp yesterday. Among the more notable tidbits, the defensive coordinator touched on the middle linebacker situation, and what we can expect to see at training camp next month. Fewell made it clear that Chase Blackburn sits atop the depth chart right now, with Michael Boley, Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones and Keith Rivers expected to compete for the position.
“I can’t say he will stay there permanently, but right now Chase is our guy and no one has clearly beaten him out for the position,” Fewell said. “Chase has some distinct advantages over some of the other guys.”This is no huge surprise. Blackburn has spent seven years with Big Blue, and all of them, on the whole, have been at least moderately productive. He knows the role and responsibilities of a MLB in Fewell’s scheme better than anyone else on the roster, and he proved as much last season.
“He probably knows as much about our defense and how to make the calls and run our defense as any of those linebackers with exception of Michael Boley right now.”
Blackburn hit free agency after the 2010 season, following six years manning special teams and playing sparingly on defense. He had 21 career starts under his belt, and was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2008. The Giants decided against resigning him after the lockout, relying instead on Jonathan Goff (who tore his ACL in the preseason, prematurely ending his season) and a host of inexperienced, unproven rookies, none of whom had anywhere near the knowledge or schematic familiarity that Blackburn did.
The decision was a poor one, fueled by a belief that Blackburn was an insignificant rotation player, that he couldn’t make the jump from special teams hero to three-down, stalwart MLB. After a brutal, 49-24, Week 11 loss at New Orleans, Blackburn got his chance. From then on, he played a vital role in Big Blue’s defensive improvement down the stretch and in the postseason.
If there’s one play that sums up what Blackburn meant for the Giants last year, it's his interception on Tom Brady’s Hail Mary heave to alpha-male tight end Rob Gronkowski in the Super Bowl. The play can be summed up best as an even mixture of freakish athleticism and pure, unadulterated moxie from an unlikely source, a turning point in a hard-fought game between two great teams, perhaps the moment that reversed New England’s momentum for good.
Whether it was his consistent late-season play, his well-developed, thorough understanding of defensive schemes and principles, his Super Bowl heroics, or some combination therein, Blackburn has the edge on the starting MLB for a reason, and it’s probably a good one. Herzlich, Rivers, Jones and Boley present formidable challenges, and no final decision will be made until Tom Coughlin releases his final week 1 depth chart.
As such, it’s hard for me to guarantee Blackburn maintains his depth chart superiority throughout the season, if only because so much—injuries, players improving, etc.—can change between now and next year. But his inspiring life story, track record of on-field success and continued defensive improvement gives him staying power at the heart of Big Blue’s revamped linebacking corps.