The Pittsburgh Steelers boast one of the best linebacker corps in the league with former Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, who led the NFL in forced fumbles a year ago.
But there’s also another player making quite the impression during training camp. Rookie Nick Herbig is building a case for legitimate playing time throughout the season with his play so far in the preseason.
The fourth-round linebacker is credited with four pressures, including 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble on 22 pass-rushing snaps, per PFF. Heading into preseason Week 3, Herbig has a 90.6 defensive grade — the highest among all Steelers defenders to play in the preseason.
Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton identified Herbig as one of seven rookies earning significant playing time this preseason, having played 40 snaps across the team’s two preseason outings.
Obviously, Herbig isn’t going to start over Watt or Alex Highsmith, who signed a four-year, $68 million extension in July, but he could spell both guys or maintain the Steelers’ aggressive pass rush if one of the starters goes down with an injury.
Last season, Watt missed seven games, and the Steelers didn’t have a viable fill-in replacement. Herbig could fill that void if needed in a stretch.
Depth is more important than ever in the NFL, and players who can contribute in more than one phase of the game will be seen as a more important piece compared to others. If Herbig can continue this trajectory, he could see a decent amount of playing time when the games begin to count. The team also signed veteran LB Kwon Alexander to a one-year deal at the end of July, another depth play at linebacker.
Herbig has one final opportunity to impress the coaching staff and build his case Thursday when the Steelers visit the Atlanta Falcons. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.