PITTSBURGH — The Steelers could have a real fix to their inside linebacker questions. But it will have to be at the expense of another position. With Elandon Roberts potentially out now for a couple of weeks, the emphasis gets placed on veterans like Mykal Walker, Blake Martinez, and Myles Jack. Mike Tomlin said on Monday that would be the direction they would move.
“Guys like Blake Martinez, Myles Jack who are in our program and having the ability to call upon some guys with NFL playing experience, but not only playing experience, but huddle with communication experience. We lost our defensive quarterback when Elandon went down with the injury,” Tomlin said. “Coupled with the fact that we had previously lost Cole and Kwon in previous weeks really put a strain on us at that position in playmaking and communication.”
But there is another player who thought he would become an inside linebacker during the NFL Combine and elsewhere. That would be Nick Herbig, who showed flashes of being great when he played off-ball both in the NFL and college. It makes sense. Herbig is a fantastic athlete with great movement skills and fluidity. He even made his sack against the Cincinnati Bengals by making a sack from that spot. Fellow Steelers writer Jim Wexell has pumped Herbig to off-ball linebacker for weeks. He might be onto something.
But Herbig has not played there at all since Wisconsin. It is unknown if he knows that spot on the defense well enough since he mostly plays in space when he drops into coverage. And having a mid-round rookie move positions, especially from a place where he looks like a future stud, is a tough ask. But these hybrid players in the NFL have dual off-ball and edge rusher roles. Guys like Anthony Barr come to mind, but he played in a 4-3 system. Most evaluators thought that Herbig would fit in as a 4-3 SAM linebacker to use his pass rush chops and his exceptional ability in space.
There is an archetype in the NFL to look at for him, too. In Carolina, Frankie Luvu did this exact thing. He went from edge rusher to off-ball linebacker, and while he is now a wildly productive inside linebacker, he still lines up on the edge as an undersized edge rusher with great burst. So, this certainty could be something the Steelers look into, but would they rock the boat this much, this late in the year? It seems unlikely. They brought Martinez and Jack in for a reason. But maybe they’re missing out on an innovative solution that could give them one of the more unique players in football.