The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex earlier than they had anticipated, having been ousted from the postseason in the opening round, which unfortunately marks the fifth consecutive season in which they failed to win a postseason game—a new record for the franchise since the merger. Yet again, they find themselves undergoing the exit meeting process earlier than anticipated, which means so are we.
The Steelers did arguably perform at or above expectations this year by going 9-7-1 and making the postseason at all, a reflection of just how much talent they lost during the offseason, from the majority of the offensive line to Mike Hilton, Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Vince Williams—not to mention Stephon Tuitt, essentially.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between head coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2021 season.
Player: Alex Highsmith
Experience: 2 Years
A second-year former third-round draft pick out of Charlotte, Alex Highsmith entered his sophomore season feeling prepared to take on the responsibilities of a full-time starting role, which he inherited from the departing Bud Dupree, signing with the Tennessee Titans in free agency.
He had a great offseason, particularly with a strong performance in training camp, but unfortunately for the young man, an early groin injury would prevent him from getting his season started right. I would imagine that injury lingered for some time, as well.
He did finish the year with six sacks, though he talked about not really being happy about his numbers. During Pro Bowl practices this past week, T.J. Watt told reporters about how he has told Highsmith not to focus on the numbers, to just focus on his game and taking care of himself personally and professionally, and that the numbers would come.
Watching him on tape, you do see everything that you want to see out of an outside linebacker in Highsmith, which is exciting. He has the speed, quickness, and strength to adequately compete athletically at this level. He came into the league already with an understanding of building a repertoire of pass-rushing moves and how to use your hands.
Now it’s a matter of putting everything together and sustaining that over 17 games (or 21 games), and remaining healthy along the way. Nobody is expecting Highsmith to break any NFL sack records, but being at or near double-digit sacks perennially feels like something that is in his grasp.
Couple that with his superior work ethic and personal drive, as well as his on-field hustle, and you see a player who continues to be on the rise entering his third season. There is good reason for optimism that we haven’t seen the best of him just yet.