Alex Highsmith saw nearly a third of his total career playing time to date during Sunday’s victory over the Baltimore Ravens, logging 25 total snaps for the Pittsburgh Steelers. About four fifths of those snaps came in a new sub-package featuring a 3-5-3 look, with the defense employing a third outside linebacker in favor of one of the four starting defensive backs.
It worked out pretty well overall. He registered two tackles and a key interception, which came early in the second half and played a crucial role in swinging the momentum of the game, helping to get a 10-point halftime deficit down to three after the offense quickly capitalized on the strong field position his takeaway provided.
After the game, head coach Mike Tomlin really stressed that the usage of that package may have had as much to do with the absence of nickel back Mike Hilton as it did anything to do with the linebackers, citing the fourth-year cornerback as one of their top run defenders.
Whether or not the package continues after Hilton (and Tyson Alualu) return remains to be seen, but the Steelers are likely to be without them again on Sunday, so we should see more Highsmith again. And the rookie feels good about the direction he’s heading.
“For this past week, the majority of my snaps were in that three-linebacker package we had, so I was getting a lot of reps with that. I do feel like I’ll be able to build on it”, he told reporters earlier today. “I feel like I was able to come in and make some plays and make a pick”.
“That’s just really my goal when I’m coming in, when T.J. needs a rest, is to be able to come in and just still be productive”, he continued. “There can’t be like a man down. The rush still has to be high, and I have to continue to be productive in all that I do. So that’s just, I feel like I can build on this last game and just keep building and building every single game”.
The Steelers used their third-round draft pick on Highsmith in April to bolster the depth at the outside linebacker position after letting go of Anthony Chickillo earlier in the offseason. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi was the only other returning outside linebacker behind the starters.
Tuzar Skipper and Jayrone Elliott were also involved in training camp. While Elliott was retained on the practice squad (and in fact was elevated for participation in Sunday’s game), Skipper was not. He is currently on the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad.
With Bud Dupree a virtual certainty to depart in free agency, getting Highsmith on the field as much as possible now is certainly to the Steelers’ advantage, giving them an opportunity to evaluate him as a candidate to be a starter as early as 2021.