OLB Alex Highsmith took a leap in his play in 2022, breaking out to the tune of 14.5 sacks and five forced fumbles ahead of a contract year in 2023.
While many expect Highsmith to get the bag this offseason, he isn’t going to rest on his laurels after a strong performance in 2022. Highsmith has said several times this offseason that he thought he played far from his best football last season, stating that he can become more dominant as a pass rusher and be more consistent against the run as he strives to become a force on the edge opposite of T.J. Watt.
Speaking on the Cook and Joe Show on 93.7 The Fan, Highsmith reiterated those statements and talked about what exactly he is doing to try and perfect his craft heading into his fourth season.
“No matter who I go against, I try to study them and take advantage of them, and I think that’s one thing that I’ve learned that Coach [Karl] Dunbar, Coach [Denzel] Martin, T.J., and a bunch of the guys in the room have helped me to be able to distinguish what guys do,” Highsmith said Friday on 93.7 The Fan. “So, like how guys set, whether they a vertical set or they spot set or how they shoot their hands. So, just really trying to work different moves on different guys is something that I’ve tried to learn and something that all of them have helped me with.”
Highsmith’s pass rush repertoire notably improved last season compared to 2021, seeing the amount of moves he incorporated into his toolbox increase as well as his success rate on several moves he struggled with the previous season, including his bull rush and his rip move on third downs.
Working with a player like Watt — he has praised Highsmith’s commitment to improving his craft during OTAs — isn’t going to hurt as Watt has made himself into a contender to win Defensive Player of the Year on an annual basis. Receiving coaching from Dunbar and Martin also is a huge plus for Watt thanks to the experience and instruction they provide. Also having guys like Cameron Heyward and now Markus Golden in the room to help teach Highsmith different pass rush moves will only help his pursuit to broaden his pass rush arsenal heading into 2023.
Alex Highsmith should get paid this offseason; there is little doubt about that. However, Pittsburgh would be extremely fortunate to lock up Highsmith prior to a season in which he could realistically take yet another step forward with his play on the field, becoming a problem for left tackles to block on a consistent basis with continued improvement in his pass rush moves. If Highsmith posted a season of 16+ sacks and high TFL numbers in 2023, the Steelers would look like geniuses for getting Highsmith to sign after last season’s performance as he would likely garner more on the open market if he does take another step forward in 2023.