Nate Herbig went undrafted out of Stanford, and he played all of three offensive snaps last season as an Eagles rookie.
So far this season, Herbig has planted his hand in the dirt for every offensive snap, and the Eagles feel confident enough in him that they’re switching Herbig from right to left guard for the home game Sunday against Cincinnati. Left guard Isaac Seumalo is injured, and the next O-lineman up, Matt Pryor, is better on the right side.
“Nate’s been the guy that we have been able to use in a couple of spots. … He can also play center, if need be, and so he’s the one that we feel more comfortable in right now, being able to move him to the left side,” Doug Pederson said Friday.
Lots of offensive linemen have trouble switching sides, or just don’t like playing the other side. Everyone remembers the disastrous Andre Dillard start at right tackle last year against Seattle, which led to Dillard’s being benched at halftime. There was a bit of foreshadowing, with Dillard telling reporters during the week how hard the transition was for him.
Dillard, smooth and athletic, was a 2019 first-round pick. Herbig, who ran slower at the 2019 scouting combine (5.41 40) than anyone other than NFL Network host Rich Eisen (6.0), seems to feel that he needs to do whatever he is told, and do it well, in order to have a job. Comfort is not his priority.
“It’s just a mindset. I try to live my life – being undrafted, since I was young – I just feel like, if you don’t make any excuses for yourself, then that’s a good way to live your life,” Herbig said Friday. “Move me to left guard. I’m excited. It’s a new opportunity, it’s a new challenge, and I’m just not going to make any excuses for myself. I’m going to go out there and do the best job I can.”
His family back in Honolulu will be watching Herbig take on the Bengals, at 7 a.m. their time Sunday, an impediment they don’t really mind, he said.
“They make it a whole function over there. It’s not often a kid from a small island gets an opportunity on the East Coast to play for the great Philadelphia Eagles, let alone the NFL,” Herbig said. “They’re super-excited, and I hope I can make them proud.”
The Eagles need some of their depth players to step up, with Seumalo (knee), Dillard (biceps), and All-Pro right guard Brandon Brooks (Achilles) all sidelined. So far, Herbig (6-foot-4, 334) is doing that.
He was asked if going toe-to-toe with top NFL talents the first two weeks, plus going against the Eagles' Malik Jackson and Fletcher Cox in practice, has built his confidence.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s, like, confidence,” Herbig said. "It’s just that I have a job to do, and [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] trusts me to get the job done, and I don’t want to let him down, I don’t want to let the team down.
“I got to do my best to do my job, and do it well, so we can win a game.”
Herbig got double-team help, and you might not have noticed it in the midst of everything that went wrong last week against the Rams, but Aaron Donald did not wreak havoc.
“Obviously he’s the best defensive tackle in the league. We tried to double-team him as much as we could, especially in pass,” Herbig said. “He’s just a really phenomenal player, and it’s always a good thing when he can’t wreck the game. So I felt like the offensive line did a good job to not let him wreck the game.”
“Herbig played really well, and that’s no small task, blocking 99 [Donald] and some of those guys on the D-Line, but he did a really nice job,” Pederson said afterward.
Coming into camp, Pryor seemed to be ahead of Herbig, Pryor having been drafted in the sixth round in 2018, and having started for Brooks in last season’s playoff loss to Seattle, when Brooks was out with a shoulder injury. Then there were two rookies, fourth-rounder Jack Driscoll and sixth-rounder Prince Tega Wanogho. They were behind, having not been on the field in the spring, but the team had more invested in them than in Herbig.
The way it worked out, Pryor was the left tackle after Dillard went down and until Jason Peters agreed to go back to his old spot, then Pryor moved to right guard, and seemed set to start there. Instead, Herbig did. Pryor said he didn’t take that personally. And he didn’t have to wait long to get another chance, with Seumalo going down 25 snaps into the Rams game.
“It took a little getting used to, getting the angles down, but after getting a couple of reps in, I fit in comfortably,” Pryor said Friday.
Driscoll, meanwhile, started the opener at right tackle while Lane Johnson healed from an ankle procedure. For Week 2, with Johnson back, some observers thought Driscoll might bump Herbig from the guard spot. Nope.
“I just look at it like, ‘Have you prepared the best you can up until this point? So when your opportunity comes, are you ready, or is the opportunity going to be too big?’” Herbig said. "And for me, it’s the same thing every week. I’m going to carry that mindset. That’s what got me here, and I’m going to keep carrying it with me every week.
“It doesn’t matter who [the opponent] is because I felt like, for me personally, if I’m confident, or I’m too overconfident, that’s when I get beat. It’s when I feel like my back’s against the wall and I got to be perfect, I’d be locked in, hear the play, hear the call, the cadence, the everything, and know exactly what I’m going to do with my footwork before the play, is what helps me. I don’t think that’s as much confidence as much as preparation.”
Herbig said that playing next to Peters or Johnson, he feels a responsibility to “pick my stuff up to play at his level. … I got to elevate my game, so I can at least match his intensity.”