During the 2021 offseason, the Steelers lost one of their key starters on the defensive line. Bud Dupree decided to sign a big contract with the Titans in which the Steelers had no chance of retaining his services with the type of contract they offered him. Dupree will now head to the Tenessee Titans for many years to come and the Steelers will promote Alex Highsmith in Dupree's place. TJ Watt is looking forward to working alongside Highsmith heading into the 2021 season.
TJ Watt on Highsmith: "He always comes to work ready to grow and get better," said fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt during the season. "That is the thing with him. He is always asking the right questions. I am not able to see guys prepare this year because we are all socially distanced and watching film from home. I know he is prepared."
Highsmith says it has been awesome to learn from TJ Watt and Bud Dupree during his rookie season. His goal during his rookie season was to get quality reps with the Steelers and when Dupree went down with an ACL tear that is exactly what happened. Highsmith became the Steelers starting edge defender with TJ Watt and made the best of his opportunity until he got hurt during the end of the season. Highsmith showed flashes when he was on the football field and feels he belongs in the NFL.
Cynthia Frelund from NFL.com recently released the NFL's most underappreciated players in the NFL and one Pittsburgh Steeler landed on the list. Frelund says "during Highsmith's rookie season the third-rounder made a tackle on nearly 10 percent of his snaps (9.9 percent tackle rate). This was the second-highest rate among edge defenders last season (min. 400 snaps). While I don't expect his rate to stay that high -- with the departure of Bud Dupree, he'll play a higher volume of snaps and have a more visible role that will command more attention -- but I do expect big things to continue. The two main reasons for that: 1) In terms of his speed in the first 3 yards traveled, Highsmith ranked in the top 10 percent in 2020; and 2) his hips stayed facing the quarterback even after contact at a rate in the top 15 percent (this helps predict recovery and pursuit of pressure)."
Highsmith realizes he has big shoes to fill with Bud Dupree leaving Pittsburgh during the offseason and he is ready for the challenge. Highsmith says all of the talk from many of the draft experts during the 2021 offseason motivated him to work very hard during the offseason. Many of those draft experts said the Steelers should take an edge rusher early on, but the Steelers feel Highsmith is more than capable of replacing Bud Dupree in 2021.