PITTSBURGH — Despite injuries to the inside linebacker room, the Steelers have no plans to move rookie Nick Herbig to inside linebacker. He has the traits to do it, and even feared they would move him there the moment they drafted him. But his traits as an edge rusher have flashed dramatically over the season, and he seems to be heating up over the past few weeks.
Because it is so late in the season, Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin sees little to no reason to move Herbig from outside linebacker. For now, he wants to see him grow as a pass rusher on the edge. The Steelers have plans to play him heavily down the stretch at outside linebacker in the rotation.
“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 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 excellent movement skills and fluidity. He even made his sack against the Cincinnati Bengals by making a sack from that spot.
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.