Even with Bud Dupree safely tucked away under the franchise tag for the 2020 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers still made it a priority to upgrade the outside linebacker position, and to do so they used their second pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to address it, coming away with small-school product Alex Highsmith, who was among the nation’s sack leaders last season.
One of the individuals who was responsible for putting Highsmith in the position to succeed on the edge in 2019 was Charlotte’s co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, Marcus West, who recently appeared on The Fan to discuss his former player, and the Steelers’ newest linebacker. He gave a rather thorough answer, which I’ve transcribed below:
One of the most interesting questions that I’ve had over the past week, somebody asked me three words to describe Alex. I said self-reliance, I said consistent, and I said student, and I think that describes him to a T.
He’s self-reliant. He’s self-made. And that comes from the foundation of an unbelievable family he has, it comes from, somewhere along the way, he’s learned to carry a chip on his shoulder, and to wear it, and that’s what you do. If you want to be proclaimed self-made, you have to wear the chip. You can’t just own it and say I have it. I wear it every single day and everywhere I go. He has that. He wears that chip. He’s self-reliant.
He’s consistent. We define consistent in our defense as evidence of maturity and a pathway to mastery. He masters his craft. He understands what it is, and that’s what the pass rush became for him this year.
Lastly, he’s a student. He’s a student of the game, and he’s a very, very, very eager student, to want more, and to learn more. He’s loyal, he’s unbelievable, and he’ll be that for the Steelers, I know.
Highsmith was a walk-on at a small school. He gradually inched his way up the depth chart and into the premium edge-rusher position by his senior season, where he finally had that big breakout campaign that got him on the radars of NFL scouts. The Combine allowed his stock to rise to the point where he was in the late Day Two conversation.
That is where the Steelers got him, saying after the draft that they were looking for another weapon with which to hunt the mobile quarterbacks that they will be facing in the AFC North. Highsmith should provide that. At the very least, he shouldn’t need a lot of exterior motivation to succeed.