Alex Highsmith has been in the starting lineup for the Pittsburgh Steelers for five games now. The game that he just played today was perhaps his best yet since taking over for Bud Dupree, who suffered a season-ending knee injury several weeks ago, recording a career-high nine tackles and registering his second sack of the season.
It was one of a number of pressures for the third-round pick out of Charlotte on the day, working primarily against rookie top-10 pick Jedrick Wills at left tackle for the Cleveland Browns, who has had a very good rookie season for himself.
Though it was just his second sack of the year, and first since moving into the starting lineup, Highsmith has been playing well overall, and particularly in terms of utilizing a variety of pass-rush moves to generate pressure, each one bringing him closer to where he needs to be, both physically and mentally.
“When I do get pressures, it does give me confidence to continue rushing”, he told reporters after the game. “That’s just the mindset I have going into the playoffs, just to be relentless in my pass rush and be firm and strong in stopping the run. I’m just ready to do whatever it takes to help my team win”.
The Steelers finished the season with 56 sacks on the year, tying their own franchise record. They came into the day with a three-sack lead and got four today, so barring an unlikely huge game by one of the teams closest to them, they should once again finish with the most sacks in the NFL.
Highsmith may have only contributed two to that tally, but one would think that there are many more to come over the course of his career, as he is almost sure to take over the starting right outside linebacker spot from Dupree, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
Before we get to that point, however, he has a postseason stretch in which to make his mark, if he can. LaMarr Woodley was a force in the postseason early in his career, even before moving into the starting lineup, so there’s no reason that he can’t do it as well.
And his postseason run will begin how the regular season ended, facing Wills and the Browns. The latter will now have a better scouting report on the young pass rusher, but the reverse will also be true, with the all-important hands-on experience.