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Mike Tomlin is looking for Alex Highsmith to take that next step in his second year

(Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Second-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith has big shoes to fill at outside linebacker this year with the departure of Bud Dupree, but Mike Tomlin looks for the Charlotte product to be up for the challenge and take that next leap.

“In regards to the loss of Bud and the expectations and the depth and things at that position, the lynchpin to that entire discussion is the natural maturation of Alex Highsmith from Year 1 to Year 2,” Tomlin said at him and Kevin Colbert's pre-draft press conference. “You know the standard of expectations that we have for our young players moving from (Year) 1 to (Year) 2. He could be the poster boy for that. We need a significant rise in terms of all areas of play from him. But I also think it’s reasonable to expect it given what he’s been exposed to, given the quality young man that he is and his work ethic and the environment we intend to put him in. I think it’s reasonable to expect him to rise up and meet the challenges.”

Highsmith was drafted in the third round last year by the Steelers and appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, starting five. He recorded 48 total tackles, 30 of them being solos, five tackles for losses, six quarterback hits, two sacks and an interception in his rookie campaign.

Dupree cashed in on a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Titans last month in free agency after producing 19.5 sacks in 27 games the last two years. Highsmith will try to pick up where Dupree left off and create a fearsome duo with perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt who commands the left side outside linebacker spot.

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