2023 NFL Draft

OLB Coach Denzel Martin Hopes Nick Herbig Can Be Pittsburgh’s OLB3: ‘We’ve Always Been Trying To Find A Rotational Piece’

The Steelers went back to Madison, Wisconsin on Day Three of the 2023 NFL Draft to select LB Nick Herbig. Herbig was a productive OLB with the Wisconsin Badgers, posting 36 career tackles for loss and 21 sacks along with 134 career tackles, seven pass deflections, and four forced fumbles. It was highly speculated that Herbig would have to transition to off-ball linebacker due to his lack of ideal size on the edge at the NFL level (6’2, 240lb). But OLB Coach Denzel Martin said in the post-pick press conference that Pittsburgh will indeed start Herbig out at EDGE to begin his NFL career.

When asked about how much he expects a guy like Herbig to play behind starter T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, Martin said the Steelers want to develop a strong rotation with their edge rushers to keep their guys fresh throughout the game.

“So, it’s always nice because you can’t have ’em guys playing all those plays,” Martin said Saturday via video from the team’s YouTube channel.  “So, it’s always nice to get a rotation. That’s what I’ve been around here a couple years now and we’ve always been trying to find a rotational piece in that third spot… third and fourth spot. So, it’s huge. It’s what we’re looking for.”

The closest thing Martin has to an OLB rotation in Pittsburgh was in 2020 when the team had Watt and Bud Dupree starting with a rookie Alex Highsmith rotating in until being thrust into the lineup full time after Dupree tore his ACL late in the year. Pittsburgh added an experienced veteran the next season, signing OLB Melvin Ingram. But Ingram later asked for a trade after not getting the playing time he wanted and was dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs.

During the last couple of years, Pittsburgh has thrown a lot of mud against the wall, hoping something would stick at that OLB3 spot. The Steelers have used the likes of Malik Reed, Derrek Tuszka, Taco Charlton, and more to rotate in with Watt and Highsmith. While Nick Herbig doesn’t have ideal size or length for the position, he is a refined pass rusher who has dusted Big Ten OTs the last two seasons as a sack artist.

Herbig should compete with Quincy Roche to be Pittsburgh’s OLB3 this season and rotate in with Watt and Highsmith, getting roughly 5-12 defensive snaps a game while also being a big factor on special teams. Using him in a niche role to pin his ears back and chase the QB could be a good fit in Pittsburgh’s defensive system. For a team that needs a capable backup OLB to provide depth to the starters in case of injury as well as provide some pass rush upside, Herbig presents a good option to fill those needs.

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