(Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Many view Alex Highsmith as an under-the-radar player heading into Year 2, as he showed a lot of promise late last year when he replaced Bud Dupree, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 12 against the Ravens. Dupree is no longer in Pittsburgh, as he signed with the Titans in free agency and the onus is on Highsmith to replace his production.
"It starts first with two really good players," Mike Tomlin said at minicamp. "The best thing that Alex can do is continue to sharpen his skills and get better and grow and develop as a player. You know we've got great expectations for a second-year guy in terms of proceeding in his career and taking a step not only in understanding the preparedness but production and consistency. He's been a highly professional, mature young man, and so I think it's reasonable to expect those things to happen. But make no mistake, before you start talking about dynamic duos and tandems and so forth, it requires two big-time, varsity players. And so he's working to grow and improve his game."
Bleacher Report believes Highsmith will take that next step and will have a breakout year this season.
"Third-round pick (in 2020) Alex Highsmith showed flashes for the Pittsburgh Steelers late in his rookie season—specifically after pass-rusher Bud Dupree was lost to a torn ACL in Week 12," Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report wrote. "Highsmith started the final five games of the regular season and finished with 48 tackles, two sacks and 12 quarterback pressures."
Highsmith will now be paired with perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt on the other side, and Watt believes Highsmith will fill Dupree's role just fine.
"If guys want to slide my way and everything, he's going to have one-on-ones to the backside," Watt said at minicamp. "I'm very confident he's going to win the majority of those battles too."
Watt also said he was working on his chemistry and communication with Highsmith.
"I am really looking forward to working with him and continuing to work," Watt said. "The last five or six games we had together last year gave us a real good look at how we gel together and things we can improve on collectively. That starts with camp here and getting the communication with him and the whole front five. I am excited to get to work with these guys again."
Along with building on his pass rush moves, Watt said that consistency is the most important aspect for Highsmith heading into his second year.
"I think the big thing is pass rush," Watt said. "He has a great repertoire of moves already coming off his rookie year. He can spin, he can do his ghost move, he is developing more power in his game. I think that is a real high positive. I also think he handles the run well. It's just a matter of being more consistent for the both of us. I think that is the biggest challenge of being an NFL player, trying to be consistent week in and week out. I have said it time and time again. Anybody can have a great game. It's about putting together great weeks and a great season. That starts with being here at minicamp."