Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith has quite a second season ahead of him in 2021 as the team’s 2020 third-round draft pick out of Charlotte will be expected to start and play opposite fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt now that outside linebacker Bud Dupree has left via free agency to sign with the Tennessee Titans. Fortunately for Highsmith, he had the opportunity to play behind both Watt and Dupree during his rookie season and during his Sunday morning interview on Mad Dog Radio on Sirius XM, he talked about what a blessing it was for him to be able to just that.
“Yeah, they were great,” Highsmith said of playing behind Watt and Dupree in 2020. “You know, T.J. and Bud, two the best teammates I had this past year. I’m just thankful for all that they’ve taught me and all that I’ve learned from them. I remember getting my iPad right after I got drafted and started watching film and stuff like that and I was just constantly watching them, watching how they do things and how they rush the passer, how they attack the run.
“And so, they are two of the best to do it in the game right now, so it was just awesome to be able to learn from them and just take things from them and just really be like a sponge and really absorb everything that I can. They were both willing to help me whenever I asked questions and stuff. So, it was just awesome to be able to learn from both of them for sure.”
While Highsmith will no longer have Dupree to learn from on a daily basis moving forward, he’ll still have Watt, who is reportedly always studying tape and especially during the season. That’s not a bad mentor to have at all and it will be interesting to see how much Highsmith can learn from Watt with a full offseason of practices, if indeed those materialize.
Before Dupree was lost for the remainder of the season to a knee injury in December, he and Watt had arguably become the best pass rushing duo in the NFL and in turn that made it tough for opposing offensive lines to give more respect to one over the other. With Dupre now gone, Highsmith made it clear on Sunday that he knows he needs to get better in his second season so that Watt doesn’t have to deal with constant extra attention throughout the 2021 season.
“I think it’s good to have two guys, you know, that can really get after the quarterback on both sides,” Highsmith said. “You know, because if you don’t, then one guy – the offensive line is just going to slide one way to the guy who’s doing better. And so, I think that just coming in this year, I gotta be able to produce like T.J. does so that the offensive line doesn’t scheme against him. “So, I just got to come in and just be the best that I can be to even out that rush, to leave off where Bud was doing.”
One of the several encouraging things about Highsmith’s play in 2020 after he took over for Dupree after he suffered his knee injury is the fact that Watt managed to register four more sacks in the final four regular season games that he dressed and played in. Highsmith chipped in one in those four games as well. That encouraging note aside, neither Watt nor Highsmith registered a sack in the Steelers Super Wildcard Game loss to the Cleveland Browns. Of course, nobody on the Steelers defense registered a sack in that game and that was very disappointing to see.
That playoff loss to the Browns is history now and I bet Highsmith has long moved on from it. In fact, he’s already at work training for the 2021 season, according to his most recent videos on Instagram.
“So, I’m just excited for the opportunity and just can’t wait to get to work,” Highsmith said Sunday morning.