The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.
The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.
How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: How likely is Alex Highsmith to work his way into being the top backup outside linebacker by the end of the season?
I think by now we all understand that the Steelers of today are not the same as that under Dick LeBeau. That is to say, there are pathways for rookies to play. No more Cameron Heyward sitting on the bench for two seasons before starting. Devin Bush played. Terrell Edmunds played. T.J. Watt played. Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave, they all played.
At the outside linebacker position, there isn’t a starting job open, but there is an opportunity for playing time. With Anthony Chickillo gone, there figure to be about 200-300 snaps available for somebody to fill in, based on his history of playing time.
In the buildup to the 2020 NFL Draft, Gerry Dulac reported that the Steelers were looking to draft an outside linebacker pretty early, with one of the reasons cited being the team’s shift to rushing their outside linebackers more, believing it would result in more wear and tear if they were not subbed out.
Chickillo was the top backup on both sides of the ball. Highsmith may not be given that much freedom as a rookie if he does earn playing time. Even he admitted to having a right-side preference. But given the state of the offseason and its limitations, and compared to his competition, how likely is it that he will climb his way to the top of the backups at his position?