Steelers News

Alex Highsmith ‘Always Workshopping’ Pass-Rush Repertoire Says Watt, Including The ‘Ice Pick’

You know what you don’t get penalized for? Playing with another player at your position who is really good. At least that’s how it’s supposed to go, even if it doesn’t always seem that way when the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Alex Highsmith is discussed since he plays across from T.J. Watt.

Granted, the majority of his sacks on the season have come in the two (of nine) games in which Watt also played. But he still has the fourth-most sacks in the NFL regardless of when and with whom they came. And Watt knows better than anybody where that production is coming from because he sees Highsmith every day.

“He’s a very studious football player”, he told reporters on Friday via the team’s website (through a link that as of this writing is dead because it’s been removed for some reason, hopefully temporarily). “He’s always looking at the film, always asking the right questions, doing a phenomenal job at practice, trying different moves, always workshopping, and the hard work is paying off. I’m super happy for him”.

Highsmith was a walk-on for a college program that only came into existence three years before he got there. He wasn’t even playing on the edge in his first two years at Charlotte. Yet he came into the league in spite of all of these checks against him, including being a small-school player, NFL-ready.

And that’s because of the work that he brings to the table. Aside from his natural athletic gifts, of course, it’s his drive and intelligence that we’re seeing allow him to separate himself and perhaps even start putting his name in the conversation as one of the best pass-rushers in the league. He’s certainly among the most underrated.

Watt’s comment about watching how Highsmith workshops his pass-rush repertoire in practice stands out to me in particular. He came into the league with an arsenal already as a self-motivated and self-disciplined student of the game. He talked about watching YouTube videos back in 2017 to learn the effective spine move he refers to as the ‘ice pick’, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Not something he got from coaches.

A lot of pass rushers come into the league naïve. They might not even understand the concept of what a pass-rush plan is and how you generate pressures by building up to certain moves at certain times over the course of a game by setting a tackle’s expectations and then subverting them.

That’s something Highsmith has always understood, and it’s why I’ve always been confident in his development ever since we got a chance to really see him in the preseason during his rookie year. He’s only continued to build upon that reputation year after year

“You see him with a rush plan now, whether it’s speed, speed to power or with his spin”, Cameron Heyward observed of the man he plays alongside. “Those have become his three moves that have made him a real good threat off the edge”.

That spin got him another sack this past week. We’ll see if he can fish out another against the Cincinnati Bengals’ Jonah Williams. He finished the season opener against this same team with a career-high three sacks, so it wouldn’t surprise me.

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