The Pittsburgh Steelers will close out their 2020 training camp on Friday and on the surface, it sounds like it was a very productive one for rookie outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, the team’s third-round selection in this year’s NFL draft. On Thursday, fellow Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt was a guest on ‘Movin’ the Chains’ on SiriusXM NFL Radio and the team’s former first-round draft pick gave a great progress report on Highsmith and how he’s done in his first training camp.
“He definitely looks like he belongs,” Watt said of Highsmith. “I feel like he’s a guy that asks a lot of questions because he wants to get better, but he also knows a lot about the defense already. He’s making a lot of calls that usually guys are making their second and third year and his motor’s there as well. And he’s just always trying to get better, trying new moves, he’s not afraid to fail and those are just all great characteristics of a guy that has a potential to be very special.”
To be honest, what Watt said about Highsmith on Thursday sounds quite like the things several Steelers players were saying about the team’s 2017 first-round draft pick out of Wisconsin three years ago. Watt went on to start 15 games his rookie season on his way to registering 54 total tackles, 7 sacks, and interception and a forced fumble.
The fact that Highsmith has seemingly progressed so quickly is quite an accomplishment due to the fact that he didn’t have the benefit of minicamp or OTA practices throughout the offseason due to the coronavirus. While Highsmith isn’t likely to be a starter right out of the chute like Watt was during his rookie season, he should be a special teams contributor right away and eventually start earning more and more playing time on defense as the 2020 season progresses.
The Steelers starting outside linebackers in 2020 will obviously be Watt and Bud Dupree and while former undrafted free agent outside linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi figures to be in the mix early on in the season as a backup, it sounds like Highsmith is already being ticketed for some relief snaps at some point as well.
“And I’m looking forward to having him [Highsmith] relieve Bud and I when we need a blow this year,” Watt said on Thursday.