The Steelers’ defensive line will mostly look the same. However, one key member in Bud Dupree is now gone.
Dupree got a massive extension with the Tennessee Titans in March. With Dupree now in Nashville, it is up to second-year pass rusher Alex Highsmith to step into his role. After Dupree suffered a Torn ACL, Highsmith stepped in admirably. Over the course of the season, Highsmith registered 20 pressures, 14 QB Hits, and 15 hurries according to Sports Info Solutions.
It is nothing short of impressive. Highsmith’s impressive play down the stretch caught the attention of the player who will be playing opposite of him in 2021, star Steelers pass rusher, T.J. Watt. Watt gave a ringing endorsement to Highsmith on Tuesday, and he believes the Steelers pass rush can go forward without missing a beat.
“I think he has a great repertoire of moves,” Watt said. “He’s coming off his rookie year and he can spin, do his ghost move, and he’s developing power in his game. I think that’s a real high positive.”
Still, Watt saw a lot of increased attention after Dupree got injured. Watt sees some of the chips and slides towards himself as a carry-over to a vaunted pass rush. However, he is confident Highsmith can make defenses pay until they respect his pass rush ability enough.
“Alex is a really talented pass rusher,” Watt said. “If guys want to slide my way and everything, he’s going to have one-on-ones to the backside. I’m very confident he’s going to win the majority of those battles, too. I don’t think there’s a way you can totally protect both of us at one time.”
Watt realizes he will likely see some more chips and double teams in early in the season. However, he expects respect for Highsmith in protection schemes will come, even if that is in due time.
“That respect is gonna come, but that respect comes with time and doing it on a consistent basis,” Watt said. “I’m just controlling what I can control and trusting in Alex.”
Highsmith feels it is important for him to take some of that pressure off of Watt. While Watt is likely to still keep up a healthy pace of sacks and pressures, it is up to Highsmith to give him critical one-on-one reps to take advantage of in the 2021 season.