We didn’t really know what to expect from Alex Highsmith during his rookie season heading into training camp. It’s hard to know much about a player without him ever stepping onto the field before. But the Pittsburgh Steelers started raving about him pretty early on once he did get the helmet on, with the refrain being that he looks like he belongs.
They put their money where their mouth is when they gave him the opportunity to play on defense in the season opener on Monday, he and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi both getting the opportunity to get on the field to spell T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Both of them played on both sides, in case anybody was wondering, with Highsmith accounting for 10 total defensive snaps.
“It was fun. It was an awesome experience going out there my first time”, he told reporters on Thursday, via the team’s website. “I knew the game speed was definitely going to be fast, but I felt like I did what I know how to do. I prepared well going into the game”.
Highsmith generated one tackle, forcing Saquon Barkley out of bounds for a one-yard gain. He also had ample opportunity to rush the passer, chasing down Daniel Jones on one play and forcing him to get rid of the ball.
“I felt like I showed flashes of what I can do when I got in the game”, he acknowledged. “I wanted to play with great effort, get after the quarterback when I was in there, do whatever I could just to make plays”.
A third-round rookie draft pick out of a small school, he has never appeared to look out of place since joining the team, and the Steelers’ confidence in him was shown when they chose to carry only four outside linebackers on the 53-man roster, despite the limited offseason.
“Having no preseason games is definitely a little bit of adversity to get through”, he admitted, “but I am a guy who rises through times of adversity. I did what I had to do at practice. I worked hard and did extra work to be able to prepare myself for that game. I just wanted to go in there and play hard and do my job, do whatever I can for the team when I got in. That was the mindset that I had”.
With Watt and Dupree getting off to a great start, provided that they stay healthy, it doesn’t look as though the Steelers may actually need the services of their backup outside linebackers much this year, though they have expressed the desire to have a rotation.
With Dupree likely finding major money in free agency in 2021, however, it is critical nevertheless that they try to find out something about what they have in Highsmith now, preparing for the possibility that he will be in the starting lineup a year from now.