Alex Highsmith had a strong start to his NFL career this season.
The Steelers’ third-round rookie out of Charlotte, Highsmith spent the first 11 games of the 2020 season as a rotational backup and occasional sub-package player, averaging about 12.5 snaps per game.
With the Steelers starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree suffering an ACL injury, Highsmith was elevated into a starting role for Week 13’s matchup with Washington and played 60 snaps and was on the field 83% of the time the Pittsburgh defense was.
That will be the plan going forward for the rest of the year for Highsmith, which will allow him to utilize one of the tools that made him a highly touted prospect with Charlotte.
Highsmith has a variety of pass-rush moves at his disposal, particularly for a young NFL player, and the chance to face the same tackle over and over again, 60 or more times per game, gives him the ability to try to use that versatility to keep offensive linemen off guard.
“It’s easier to set up rushes, the more rushes that you have,” Highsmith said. “So it’s really kind of like a chess match. I’m playing with them. So just really at the beginning the game, you know, this past game, I was trying to set up different moves. That’s what I’m just gonna try to work as well this week. The more rushes I get, the the easier it is to set up different moves.”
Sunday night, Highsmith will be facing Buffalo left tackle Dion Dawkins. Dawkins also earned a starting job as a rookie back in 2017. Now in his fourth season, he’s an experienced pro with 55 starts under his belt compared to Highsmith’s one.
But the cat-and-mouse game of pass rusher vs. pass blocker is just as much about what you can do as it is what you know. Highsmith hopes that he’s able to use his variety of pass rushes to add to his one sack he’s already record this season.
“That’s just kind of the key for me, just playing chess with them and working different stuff in the beginning of the game to be able to set stuff up for later in the game.”