Alex Highsmith couldn’t have picked a better place to play. After playing base defensive end for most of his Charlotte career, he’s now a stand-up EDGE rusher in Pittsburgh for a Steelers’ defense that revolves around its outside linebackers. The history of great ones, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Joey Porter, James Harrison, and of course, present-day company with T.J. Watt. Highsmith gets the benefit of playing opposite of one of the game’s best players and someone clearly on a Hall of Fame track and should become the franchise’s all-time sack leader by the time 2023 is through.
Appearing on Ben Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast that released Tuesday night, Highsmith talked about playing next to Watt.
“We all know T.J.’s the best in the world, what he does,” he told the show. “It’s just cool to be able to have a guy like that as a teammate. I remember coming through the draft process, he was one of the teams I wanted to go to. Because I knew they were loaded. The outside backer position, with him and Bud and just being able learn from guys like him over these past couple years has been awesome.”
Highsmith got to spend most of his rookie season as the rotational #3 behind Watt and Bud Dupree. But when Dupree tore his ACL late in the year, Highsmith moved into the starting lineup. He’s gotten better each year, taking a leap in his play from 2020 to 2021. His 2021 training camp is still the best I’ve ever seen from a Steeler in all my years attending, earning the only ever “A+” grade in our summer evaluations. 2022 was his true breakout season, often the sole source of the Steelers’ pass rush when Watt partially tore his pec in Week One. Highsmith finished this past year with 14.5 sacks.
His game hasn’t stopped growing and he’s continued to learn from everyone he can, including Watt, to improve as a pass rusher.
“I try to watch some of his film too, to see different moves that he does. So I try to translate a little bit to my game as well.”
Highsmith didn’t specify what moves he’s added to his toolbelt. Perhaps he’s focused on Watt’s bullrush, one of Highsmith’s weaker moves early in his career that’s developed over time. Watt and Highsmith both occasionally use the ghost rush and cross chops, too. But stylistically, they are sorta different rushers. Highsmith’s inside spin move is far better than Watt’s while Watt does a better job with swipes and dipping and ripping the edge. Still, both guys get the job done and find ways to attack the quarterback.
Now, Highsmith looks to turn that production into a payday. He’s the team’s most likely candidate to receive a contract extension this summer. While he won’t come close to Watt money, he could surpass what Bud Dupree received from the Tennessee Titans after the 2020 season, averaging $16.5 million per season.
Check out the full interview with Highsmith below.