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Improving Hip Flexibility One Of Alex Highsmith’s Offseason Goals

The number one mission for a pass rusher? Bend the edge. That’s why there’s such a strong correlation between three-cone times and top pass rushers. Von Miller could run under a coffee table. Alex Highsmith will likely never get to that Gumby-level bend but he’s working on being more flexible to run under and past left tackles this season. Highsmith joined Sirius XM’s Movin’ the Chains with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan to explain how he’s becoming bendier.

“One thing I’ve been able to do working at that to be able to help improve that is working on my hip flexibility,” he told the show. “So I’ve been doing a lot of hip stretches and stuff like that. Stretching my quad, stretching my hip so I can be able to really extend and get out. Because really pass rush starts with the get-off. If you don’t have a good get-off, an o-lineman’s gonna beat you to his spot and now he’s waiting on you.”

Coming out of Charlotte, Highsmith recorded a 7.32 three-cone during the 2020 NFL Combine, a below-average number. He wasn’t known as a bendy or overly athletic pass rusher and won most often with technique and a variety of pass rush moves. But his game has improved since making the jump to the NFL, improving his power last year. This season, he’s working on improving his bend to more effectively turn the corner.

Highsmith also discussed improving his get-off by changing his stride length.

“Just really working on my get off in the pass rush game, and I think that really starts with getting a great first step with stride length.”

Stride length isn’t something talked about often in a pass rush breakdown. Presumably, Highsmith is talking about increasing his stride length to help gain ground off the snap, improving his get-off and forcing tackles to open their hips to defend the edge. That will open up the rest of his pass rush arsenals, making his inside counters more effective. Highsmith’s favorite counter is his inside spin. Improving his edge/speed rushes will make that counter all the more potent.

Highsmith is attempting to be the perfect complement to TJ Watt. He won’t net 15+ sacks like Watt who is gunning for an outright hold of the single-season sack record but if all goes well, Highsmith could flirt with double-digits this season. He finished 2021 with six sacks but ended the year strongly, picking up four of them over his final four games. Had an early-season groin injury not slowed him down, he may have reached ten. Pittsburgh will need its pass rush to continue to be strong but its run defense must be the area that sees a significant jump after finishing 32nd league-wide last year.

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