Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt are both questionable for Saturday’s Steelers game against the Indianapolis Colts. With both outside linebackers in concussion protocol, that could mean newfound opportunities for those behind them. While Markus Golden, a veteran, has been there plenty of times, it could mean the first career start for rookie outside linebacker Nick Herbig.
They are no Watt and Highsmith, but Golden and Herbig have both flashed and been productive during their limited times in the game. Golden was a surprise inactive on Thursday, but that was due to limited spots and the need for Kyron Johnson to come up and play special teams. Johnson is the team’s only edge rusher on the practice squad.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin revealed last week that they had big plans for Herbig down the stretch to receive more playing time, and that is why they would not move him to off-ball linebacker.
“I’m not saying Nick Herbig can’t, but I’m not sure that’s the best thing for Nick Herbig and for us,” Austin said. “Nick will get some quality reps outside as we get down the stretch and help us there. I think he’ll be more helpful for us as a rusher right now than as an inside backer. Does he have the ability and aptitude to do it, yeah, but we’re talking about a guy stepping in whatever week, 14, whatever it is, and being a signal caller and doing a lot of things he hasn’t done. I don’t know if I’d strap him with that at this point.”
Herbig’s explosiveness and bend shined in the preseason. He has that rare blend to be able to soften the arc. Is he a three-down player? I’m still unsure if he is, but he could follow the template of someone like Bryce Huff, who has become a fearsome sub-package and obvious passing situation pass rusher. But he has a chance to prove he could be at that level this week if he does start.
Also, Herbig, in his limited snaps, has become a huge splash play producer for the Steelers. If he can keep that up, Pittsburgh could have a chance to make Gardner Minshew feel uncomfortable in the pocket. With how prone he can be to turnovers, that will be key for the team if they want to pull off the upset win on the road.