Now that the 2020 offseason has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past season, and with notice to anything that happens going forward.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: OLB Alex Highsmith
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The Steelers do not appear to be handling rookie outside linebacker Alex Highsmith with kid gloves so far during his first padded practices. Mike Tomlin set a tone early by throwing him into as many backs-on-backers drills as he could manage, as an example.
One of the themes that Tomlin has harped on since training camp opened has been working to find ways to accelerate the growth of the young players on the roster, obviously with the rookies most of all. For these players, coming to Heinz Field for training camp was their first opportunity to do anything on a professional football field.
They had no rookie minicamp, no OTAs, no mandatory minicamp. And perhaps worst of all, they won’t have a preseason this year, either, even one game. Even three-year veteran Chris Wormley admitted last week that he wished teams would have at least one preseason game.
But teams have to work with the hand they’re dealt, and this year, that means that will have to bring in rookies who have had pretty minimal on-field opportunities, and none inside of a game-like setting. So Tomlin, and surely every other head coach around the league, is looking to find ways to throw his rookies into the fire and see what they can handle.
That was best exemplified with the first session of padded practices on Monday when he repeatedly pit rookies Alex Highsmith and Anthony McFarland against one another, the former an outside linebacker and the latter a running back.
Tomlin said after practice that it was about getting young players “adjusted to the intensity of the drill and learning how important technique is”, which goes just as much for the defender in this case as well as for the offensive player.
With Anthony Chickillo gone, Highsmith is expected to compete for snaps behind the Steelers’ starting outside linebackers, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. His competition has about 100 combined defensive snaps in their history in Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper, both former undrafted free agents.