The Pittsburgh Steelers knew that they could potentially be drafting a future starter when they used their third-round compensatory draft pick on Alex Highsmith last year. Given that he had a limited amount of time on the edge in college and came out of a small school, that says a lot about how much they believed in his tape and personality.
A year on, he is indeed gearing up for a starting role, though the recent acquisition of Melvin Ingram somewhat complicates how it all plays out. Neither of them, nor their coaches, know for sure exactly what will transpire in terms of work distribution. But from an outside perspective, the bottom line is, it’s a good problem to have.
Highsmith’s preparation was crucial for the rookie season that he had, especially given the lack of a proper offseason, but even he expects to be at another level this year following the experienced that he was able to gain in 2020.
“For sure. As the year went by, especially those last five games. I felt the more and more that I played, it slowed the game down for me, so that’s what I’m excited for this year as well, because I know that the more reps that I get, the game will slow down for me”, he told reporters yesterday.
Head coach Mike Tomlin always harps on the year two jump and how most players see their largest improvement in their career going from their first season to their second, and that’s primarily because of the game ‘slowing down’.
That means that you’ve successfully converted theory into practice. You don’t have to think about what you’re supposed to be doing in reaction to what you see on the field as much, because you’ve done it. You see something, and the response comes naturally. You don’t have to ‘find’ it in your mind and recall what you’ve learned.
We’ve all experienced something like this simply through going about our lives. I’m sure most of us don’t have to think much while we’re tying our shoes, for example. But for the rest of you, keep at it. You’ll get there eventually. And if not, there’s always Velcro.
There’s no Velcro on Highsmith’s cleats this year, though. He’s a been-there, done-that guy, and is ready to take on full-time responsibilities. “That’s just the mindset that I had going into this year”, he said. “I had a great offseason, I put the work in. I’m excited to give my all to the team this year”.
No matter how things ultimately shake out with Ingram, Highsmith is going to see the field quite a lot this season, and will have every opportunity to demonstrate just how much faster he can play for this defense a year on into his career.