Knowing your physical abilities — and having them in the first place — is a key ingredient in excelling at competitive sports. Knowing your techniques relative to your game and position is essential as well, particularly where the physical abilities are equal. Another resource is knowing your game, and the games of others, including your team and your opponents, through tape study.
That’s where Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith wants to take his game to another level. Particularly, following in the footsteps of T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, both of whom are fastidious in their studies, in the film room and the classroom.
“The biggest lesson, I would probably say just to always be ready, always be prepared mentally”, Highsmith told reporters last week during OTAs. “That’s something that I feel like separates the good from the great in this league, because everyone’s talented enough to be able to get to the NFL, but what separates the good from the great are the guys who study film and the guys who know what to do mentally”.
Obviously, it’s hard for a rookie who isn’t starting to study himself very much. Especially when you don’t have a preseason or spring workouts. All you have to go on is the work in training camp and whatever meaningful reps that you were able to earn during the regular season. But that doesn’t make it any less important. Highsmith did start five games at the end of the year after an injury to Bud Dupree.
“I’m going to take that to another level this year by studying even more, just so that I can be able to recognize formations, and that’ll help me just to be able to get off the ball faster”, he said. “That was something I learned, just being able to watch my film. I feel like the first couple of games, when I came up for Bud, I was slow off the ball at times because I was seeing too much, but as the game started slowing down for me, I was able to process things easier”.
“I feel like the more reps that I get, the slower the game is going to come for me, and so that’ll help me just to get off the ball faster, create more pressure, and get more sacks”, he added.
With Dupree signing with the Tennessee Titans in free agency, it’s on Highsmith’s shoulders to man the right outside linebacker position. Watt will play on the opposite side. While they did retain veteran reserve Cassius Marsh, and drafted Quincy Roche in the sixth round, there is no ambiguity about who the starter is in this group.