One of the biggest advantages of having a veteran team is in the area of communication. When you have a group of players that have been in a system and around each other for a long period of time, there is a lot of non-verbal communication that takes place on the field—even communication that doesn’t need to take place, because they already know what one another is thinking.
That is the sort of relationship that edge rusher T.J. Watt had with Bud Dupree, which they developed over the course of the past four seasons. With the latter now on the Reserve/Injured List, Watt is finding himself doing a lot more communicating with their new rookie starter, third-round pick Alex Highsmith.
“It’s been cool to see his development as the season’s gone along”, he told reporters earlier today about how Highsmith has come along over the course of the year, going from short rotational work to being almost an every-down player. “The game’s definitely slowing down for him. We’ve been able to have more in-depth conversations”.
“With Bud and I, there was so much that we didn’t even have to talk about, so many signals that we already just knew how each other was gonna play certain things”, Watt acknowledged. “It’s kind of reteaching myself how to communicate with Alex, just seeing little things, like Y-Off, the alert of wrappers, just little things that not a lot of people think about, but we just need to be on the same page with a lot of things, and he’s done a tremendous job of being able to study the film and then take it to the field”.
Although he hasn’t been blowing things up on the stat sheet since entering the starting lineup three weeks ago, Highsmith has been making progress all the same, and at least his defensive teammates have seen it. He’s still searching for his second sack—he’s come close—but he has had a couple of hits in recent weeks.
There are still things for him to learn, to be sure, and it’s no doubt the case that there are some things the coaching staff will have to learn to trust that he can do, but as long as forward progress is being made, that’s all they can ask for.
Nobody expected Highsmith to be logging over 300 snaps on defense this year—in addition to another 250 snaps on special teams—but injuries have a way of changing a team’s plans. The reality is that he is a huge part of their defense right now, and they don’t really have other options, so all they can do is hope he’s up to the task, not in the future, but now.