Next man up isn’t just a trite slogan Mike Tomlin likes to casually mention. And Alex Highsmith found out what that means in Pittsburgh. He became that next man up after Bud Dupree went down with a torn ACL late in the season. The Steelers obviously missed Dupree but in the process, found themselves a starter in Highsmith. Speaking 1v1 with Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews, he learned your role can quickly change in the NFL.
“I just learned about myself to always be ready,” he said in the interview. “Always be ready to hear my name called. I feel like I’m prepared in all that I do. As soon as I got here and they told me I’d be playing out of the gate, playing special teams and stuff like that. Knowing to always be ready. That’s one thing I learned about myself. That I’m well-prepared in all that I do. So that’s what I want to continue to be.”
Pittsburgh did their best to ease him into NFL life. He was active from Week One and dressed the entire season but rotated with Ola Adeniyi on defense to begin the year. Over the first seven weeks and six games, Highsmith averaged 9.6 defensive snaps a game.
But his role increased from there, taking over as the #3 outside linebacker. He broke out in the first meeting against Baltimore, intercepting Lamar Jackson early in the second half to jumpstart the Steelers’ comeback. Over the next five weeks, his snap count rose to 16 snaps per game. And when Dupree was lost for the season, he became the starting ROLB and averaged nearly 60 snaps a game while playing 90% of the time.
We’ll highlight it in detail later this week but Highsmith was impressive his rookie season. He showed a bit of everything. Ability to play the run, rush the quarterback, even drop into coverage. Highsmith exhibited the same traits in the NFL he had in college. A smart, advanced player who in Pittsburgh, got to learn from two of the best in Bud Dupree and TJ Watt. Not only for their on-field talents but their off-field habits. Few guys work and train as hard as Dupree and Watt.
With Dupree pricing himself out of Pittsburgh, Highsmith knows what to expect in 2021. He’ll begin it the way he ended his rookie year as the team’s starting ROLB.