Though the 2021 season certainly didn’t end in the fashion he was hoping for, Pittsburgh Steelers’ second-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith has already flipped the switch to the offseason, and is looking toward to taking another significant step forward in his game opposite All-Pro T.J. Watt.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night in the AFC Wild Card matchup, Highsmith had a strong game, finishing with three tackles, one sack, and one quarterback hit, living in the backfield throughout the early portion of the game, landing his ghost rush against Chiefs’ left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. time and time again.
According to Pro Football Focus, Highsmith added another two pressures on Sunday night and really provided the Steelers with a strong compliment opposite Watt, who was a game-wrecker himself. Highsmith’s final performance of the 2021 season capped off a strong second season overall for the former third-round draft pick, one that was his first full season as a starter.
Highsmith finished the year with 74 tackles, six sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hits, showing he can hold down the starting job opposite Watt for years to come.
In his final press conference with the media Monday, Highsmith talked about the offseason ahead, how he’s trying to improve his game, and how he felt his first season as a starter went.
“I definitely look forward to a big off season for myself,” Highsmith said to reporters Monday, according to video via Steelers.com. “Gonna work as hard as I can to put myself in the best position to help this team win the Super Bowl next year. And so I look forward to doing that very soon. I’m definitely gonna…decompress a little bit, you know, it’s been a long season, but I look forward to getting back to work real soon, helping the team win the Super Bowl. Overall I feel like I grew this year from Year One to Year Two, and I know I have a lot more room to work, a lot more room to grow and so that’s what I look forward to doing in Year Three…I can’t wait. Can’t wait until August.”
Highsmith certainly showed flashes of what he can become this season, showing off his strength against the run and his overall ability to convert speed to power off the edge. The sack numbers might not be overly impressive, but the 36 pressures this season are a sign that that sacks will come.
The young pass rusher isn’t going to rest on his laurels, though, and is already identifying key areas to work on this offseason.
“I feel like I can always give better in every aspect of my game,” Highsmith said. “The run game, pass game…but I know that. My goal this year was to have double digit sacks and I didn’t achieve that. So that’s something that I’m gonna work my butt off to achieve next year. And so I know that I have to just continue to work. Work my moves and continue to refine my moves is something I’m gonna do this offseason and just continue to get strong and be stronger in the run game.
“I know that I like to play a physical game, so that’s what I’m just gonna continue to work on this year,” Highsmith added. “But like I said, I can’t wait to get back to work.”
The Steelers are obviously very excited about Highsmith’s potential and should be rather pleased with the play he put on tape this season. If he can take another jump in year three similar to the one he made this year, look out.