With Bud Dupree signed, sealed, and delivered to the Tennessee Titans, an entirely predictable outcome this offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers are moving on and moving ahead as far as their pass rush goes. It’s an incredible consolation prize to still have T.J. Watt coming off the left side of the defense, of course, but you do still need two guys.
The second guy is a young but not unfamiliar face. Alex Highsmith, a third-round draft pick last year, will be entering the starting lineup after starting the final five games of the regular season after Dupree went down in 2020. And in preparation for that role, he is adopting the studying habits of the likes of Dupree, Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
“In regards to watching film and studying my opponent, that’s really where the game is won”, he said over the weekend during an interview on SiriusXM for Mad Dog Radio. “That’s when the game slows down, is when you know what play is coming. When you know what to do, you’ll play fast. So if you don’t know what play’s coming, you don’t recognize the formation, you’re not gonna be able to make plays. You’re not gonna be able to do the best as you can”.
“Film study is such an important part of this game, the mental part of the game, so if I can get that down this year and just continue to improve in that, that’s where I’m gonna take my game to the next level”, Highsmith concluded.
Both Watt and Fitzpatrick in particular have talked numerous times about how big studying is to their games. Watt has even discussed how Fitzpatrick’s feverish studying and notetaking habits fueled him to be even more diligent in his own work.
That’s a really critical component of the game that coaching simply can’t replicate. If you have another guy in your room that’s just like you setting the tone and showing you the way of how you should be if you want to be great, that counts for so much more than anything a coach can tell you about the importance of tape study and going over notes.
Of course, at the end of the day, you also have to be able to beat the man in front of you, and all the notes in the world aren’t going to get you to be able to bend the edge any better than your physical gifts allow you to. Tape study won’t increase your strength for your bull rush, even if you can glean some benefits from it.
It’s the marriage of physical ability, on-field repetition, and study that produces the best results, and it takes a special kind of person to have all three. For whatever it’s worth, Highsmith at least has always seemed to have the right mental makeup for the task laid out in front of him since the day he was drafted.