The Pittsburgh Steelers have made an extremely notable habit of seeking out players that have NFL bloodlines under head coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin explained that preference earlier this offseason, and said that one of the reasons the Steelers like bringing in players with family ties to the league is that they have a better idea of what to expect when they get there.
“Professional football is less of a mystery for them,” Tomlin said. “It’s less of a dream for them. When someone in your close proximity is living that out, be it an older sibling or a parent, you see it. You know what it’s about. You understand it. There’s less dreaming about it and more planning and taking action to create that end result and I just think that creates a higher potential floor and makes the acquisition less mystical.”
In the 2023 NFL Draft, the Steelers got plenty of those family ties. Second-round cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is the son of a Steelers legend and grew up around the team’s practice facility. Fourth-round pick Nick Herbig is the younger brother of a current Steelers offensive lineman.
If there is an advantage to having a greater familiarity with the league as a young player, it should play out in settings like the team’s rookie minicamp this weekend, with 51 wide-eyed youngsters joined only by a scattered few that are familiar with the process.
“Definitely,” Porter said. “I feel at home already. Just like when I was a young kid, I used to come here, come through these doors, and now I’m a young man doing the same thing. It feels good.”
Herbig has the advantage of sharing a locker room with his older brother, though the Steelers veterans typically disperse during rookie camp.
“He could kind of be there to guide me, give me some keys and nuggets for what is to come,” Herbig said, though he said he didn’t think his brother would stray too far. “He’s around here somewhere watching.”
That advantage can show itself in several forms. It can come in the weight room or at the training table in terms of taking care of their bodies. It can be on the practice film or the film room in terms of knowledge of the game.
But it almost certainly creates players that are natural leaders among the youngsters, that can show others the way because they’ve already been shown.
The Steelers invited 51 players to rookie camp. Five of them were with the team last year, and you could see those players leading the charge in terms of getting teammates on the right page. Sprinkled in elsewhere were some veteran tryouts, like center Mike Pasaniuk and long snapper Nick Boyle, that have been to settings like this in the past.
But among the pure rookies, guys like Herbig and Porter became de facto leaders just because they’re more familiar with the way NFL practices are run than a player that’s getting their first up-close and personal look at the league.
“Having an older brother, especially a guy that’s been through it all, he’s seen a lot, being undrafted,” Herbig said. “He’s on his fifth year now. My brother has seen a lot. He’s met a lot of people and he’s very knowledgeable. I’ve learned a lot from my brother.”