The Pittsburgh Steelers are not the first team to deal with an injury to a star player, and they certainly won’t be the last. Some of the league’s best players in any given year are liable to suffer major injuries over the course of the season, such is the war of attrition of such a physical game.
Every situation is unique, except in the fact that it requires that others step up in that star’s absence. For Pittsburgh, the star is T.J. Watt, and even though he may only miss as little as four games (though more realistically six or seven), the team will need others to play their role in filling the void.
Former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger believes they already have the guy on the roster who can step up in the form of Alex Highsmith, the third-year edge rusher who recorded three sacks in the season opener. He talked about his believe in the Charlotte product during the third episode of his Footbahlin podcast.
“Because T.J. requires so much attention, that was freeing up Alex on the other side. And now it’s gonna be a challenge for Alex”, he said. “I know Alex. Alex is an awesome football player and an awesome person. He works hard, and I think he is gonna rise up to that occasion to be like, ‘Listen, I’m gonna fill some of this void and do what I can to step up on my side’”.
A former third-round draft pick, Highsmith has been a steady riser since entering into the NFL. As a small-school product, it took him an impressive showing at the Combine to even get noticed enough for his stock to rise into day two back in 2020.
And that also happened to be the year of the pandemic’s beginning, which greatly impacted the NFL’s offseason that year, with no preseason, so his readiness to contribute under those circumstances was in itself already somewhat remarkable.
Highsmith got the opportunity to show some flashes during five starts at the end of his rookie season following an injury suffered by Bud Dupree. He took over the starting lineup full-time last season, though a groin injury contributed to him getting off to a bit of a slow start.
He ended the year on a hot streak, however, and even though he missed most of training camp and all of the preseason in 2022 while nursing a rib injury, he was still able to come out guns blazing for the season opener.
Now the Steelers need him to be the man off the edge while Watt is sidelined. While Roethlisberger has a salient (and obvious) point that anybody playing opposite Watt is going to benefit from the attention he draws, Highsmith’s tape speaks for itself. The fact that he had a sack and a half against the Los Angeles Chargers last year in a game in which Watt was out injured doesn’t hurt his case, either.