Alex Highsmith, Set On Stopping The Run, Aims To Be Viewed As ‘Hard-Nosed Football Player’

Alex Highsmith

Entering his third season in the NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers’ outside linebacker Alex Highsmith has improved leaps and bounds each season, seeing his production increase, while his reputation continues to grow opposite T.J. Watt.

Now, after seeing some improvement as a run defender and overall pass rusher in 2021 in which he recorded a career-high 74 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks in his first full season as a starter, Highsmith is aiming to reach new heights in 2022, specifically as a run defender.

It’s well documented just how much the Steelers struggled defensively last season against the run, especially down the stretch as the likes of the Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, and Baltimore Ravens gashed the black and gold on the ground. Some of that had to do with health in the front seven as names like Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt were missing due to injury, forcing names like Isaiahh Loudermilk, Montravious Adams, and Henry Mondeaux into extensive action.

Alualu and Tuitt should return this season, and the added experience gained last season in the trenches should help the younger players progress this season. For Highsmith, stopping the run is one of his top priorities for his third season in the NFL, a season in which he’s aiming to establish himself as a hard-nosed football player, the former third-round pick said Tuesday to hosts Arthur Moats and Wes Uhler on Steelers Nation Radio and the Steelers Blitz podcast.

“I also wanna be known as a hard-nosed football player. That’s playing the run and being physical cuz you know, last year we weren’t where we wanted to be as a defense against the run,” Highsmith said, according to audio from the show. “And I think this year we got a lot to prove, and that’s something, just a key area where I wanna be able to do my job when it comes like, ‘Hey, when they run the ball over here, they’re not getting around this edge.’

“That’s the goal that I have. And so just continuing to be more physical is something that I have.”

The Steelers certainly saw a more physical run defender in 2021 from Highsmith, who really added some strength and weight to his frame in an effort to hold up for an entire season opposite Watt. That ended up being the case as Highsmith played in 16 of 17 games last season and was one of the Steelers’ top run defenders in the trenches.

Though he did have some issues getting caught inside at times leading to big gains around the outside, he was hard to move off of his spot throughout the season and really set the edge well, turning things back inside. This year, he’s aiming for more.

“Just continue to be more physical,” Highsmith stated. “I think that was something that I wanted to get better at going into my second year, cuz I think there were people that were like, ‘Oh, I don’t think he can play the run,’ and I think that I really showed people that I can, and proving to myself that I can because I know I can.

“This year I felt I’ve gotten more physical as well. I’ve gained a few pounds, so I’m putting on more muscle as well. I just want to continue to be an all-around player.”

If Highsmith can continue to develop as a pass rusher and rack up more sacks, while still being able to defend the run at a solid level overall, his reputation will continue to increase overall. Through two seasons and 32 career games (21 starts), it sure looks like the Steelers found a legitimate No. 2 OLB opposite the All-Pro in Watt.

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