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Nate Herbig Taking Opportunity at Center in Stride

Pittsburgh Steelers center Nate Herbig is the one taking first team reps early on to start the team’s OTAs, making Zach Frazier earn it.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Nate Herbig
Pittsburgh Steelers center Nate Herbig at the team's OTAs, May 21, 2024 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers made no qualms that Nate Herbig remained a legitimate option at center before the NFL Draft. But once the team landed Zach Frazier in the second round, most assumptions went to Frazier becoming the immediate starter at center. But as Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friend.

Herbig confirmed that he started OTAs as the starting center. Much like Troy Fautanu, Frazier will have to earn his keep to start from the outset at center. That’s not new, but it’s the reality regarding the new-look offensive line. So, Herbig is starting at center, but he is also only playing at center, a change from last year when he primarily worked at guard.

Pittsburgh Steelers Guard Nate Herbig

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Nate Herbig before a game against the Green Bay Packers, Nov. 12, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

“I mean, honestly, like, man, just taking this year day by day, man, I’m not thinking ahead,” Herbig said at the start of OTAs. “I’m not really thinking about the past. I’m trying to be where my feet are, and every day, you know, I’m just trying to get a little bit better. You know, I’m really working hard to get better on my game and contribute to this team in any way that I can. You know, so that’s all I’m working on. I’m just trying to get better every day. I’m not really listening, like no outside noises or anything. Keeping the main thing the main thing here.”

Herbig saw limited time last year but did play a bit in spot starts, while James Daniels dealt with a groin injury. However, center is new for him this year in a full-time capacity. Throughout most of his career, Herbig has played at guard. He has just 49 career snaps as a center, but even if Frazier beats him out, he projects as the team’s primary backup.

The differences come with timing and hand speed. Since a center naturally is compromised more than a tackle or guard with their snapping hand taken away to start the play, the off-hand becomes all the more important. That exemplifies why centers must play with excellent pad level and grip strength. Hand placement matters much more at center than even other offensive line spots. Herbig is taking that with stride.

Steelers Nate Herbig

Pittsburgh Steelers guard Nate Herbig at OTAs, June 7, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

“There’s a lot of bolts of it. It’s a lot of, I’d say, some things are harder at center that is easier guard, and some things are harder guard that are easier to center,” Herbug said. “You know, so it’s just, you know, I would say I, fortunately, learned from Jason Kelce for three years, so I learned a lot from them, but I’m not really reading too much in time. I’m just working hard now, wherever they put me in at.”

Frazier is experienced coming out of West Virginia, so his transition should not take too long. Coming out, it seemed that Frazier could be argued as the most polished player in the center class. So, Frazier should, theoretically, be ready to play Week 1. But he is coming off a significant leg injury. Even if he is practicing, the injury takes time to recover from and get back to full speed.

So, for now, Herbig gets the call as the team’s first-team center. However, given that it is an off-season training activities, there is only so much to look into regarding that distinction. This is early in the process, and Frazier should likely see a ramp-up in first-team reps throughout the rest of the Summer.