2021 South Side Questions: More Concerning Absence Diontae Johnson Or Alex Highsmith?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom look to be in a starting role (or complementary role in Freiermuth’s case) for the season opener.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. They have a 53-man roster, though it will always change to some degree. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Whose absence would be more concerning this week between Alex Highsmith and Diontae Johnson?

The Steelers, at least up until now, have had a couple of starters who are not practicing, including third-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson and Alex Highsmith. Both are young starters who are more likely to need practice time in order to play.

From that standpoint, it’s hard to say which player might be more likely to play if either of them is able to get some work on the field today, but we won’t know yet what the status of either of them will be, most likely, until Sunday if they do. If they don’t, it’s overwhelmingly likely they will be ruled out.

Which player’s absence, though, would be more concerning for Sunday’s game? I’d like to make this question irrespective of other factors, but we really can’t, since that’s not how reality works. In that spirit, it has to be noted that T.J. Watt has only practiced on a limited basis the past two days, and it’s unclear if he will play either.

Still, he stands a far better chance of playing, given that he has actually been able to practice, so let’s try to assume he’ll be out there. Highsmith has looked good so far this season, but having Watt and Melvin Ingram out there, the latter of whom played nearly every snap last week, certainly helps.

You still have JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and James Washington at wide receiver, but Johnson is the one who gets open and generates the targets. The other receivers have had some struggles gaining separation, so having Johnson out there able to get open is a huge security blanket for a passing game that is lacking and an offensive line that leaks in pass protection.

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