Think about it.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of a rookie heading into his first NFL season in 2020. Not only are COVID-19 tests now a part of everyday life, but consider what they are missing out on as it pertains to football.
No rookie minicamp.
No Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
No mandatory minicamp.
Adjusted training camp.
No preseason games.
For the NFL veteran, the thought of not having to deal with minicamps and meaningless games might be things dreams are made of. But for a player who is trying to adapt and get ready for the professional level, it certainly seems like an uphill battle to see significant playing time.
For the Steelers, their six 2020 draft picks will have to face that uphill battle with training camp underway, but don’t think for a second it has dampened their confidence. Especially third-round pick Alex Highsmith.
“It’s still high.” Highsmith told reporters on a group interview session. “That’s always been my thing. My confidence hasn’t wavered because of this. I’m someone who doesn’t get rattled by adversity. Whatever I can do to be the best that I can be no matter what the adversity is, I’m still going to do it. I’ve been preparing over these past three or four months to be in that position, so I’ll have to be able to get in there and be able to pass rush.
“You know, I’m just ready and excited for the opportunity. I can’t wait for the opportunity to present itself. Like I said, there are definitely different circumstances for us, not being able to do OTAs, not being able to have preseason games, but just making the most of it and doing what I can day-to-day, week-to-week to help contribute to winning win championship No. 7.”
When you consider rookies not being able to physically be around coaches, and to prove their worth, it makes it extremely challenging for them to get a leg up on anyone on the depth chart.
Highsmith realizes this, and has a plan.
“I’m definitely doing whatever I can over these next few weeks out there at training camp to make roster and to contribute where I can.
“One of my old coaches, Coach (Ulrick) Edmonds at Charlotte always used to say to be a low maintenance guy. What he meant by that was to be someone who always shows up on time, is always early, always doing the right thing, who never misses anything because you don’t want to be a guy on the other list. He calls those guys “high maintenance guys,” those guys who cause a lot of problem and stuff like that.
“Really doing whatever I can to take the no-talent things like putting in effort, being on time, studying and watching extra film with the coaches and stuff like that is what that I’m doing to help myself. Also, I’ll definitely play special teams as well and do whatever I can whether that’s special teams or defense, doing whatever I can to get on this field and help this team chase a ring. Those are the things that I’m really focusing on, just putting in my best effort every day to be the best that I can be.”
The former Charlotte product dominated in his senior season, but also realizes there is a steep learning curve not just entering the NFL, but for outside linebacker. One thing Highsmith did was join some of his new teammates to work with pass rushing specialist Brandon Jordan to help him improve as a technical pass rusher.
“It was good working out with them. You know, Cam (Heyward) has a good relationship with Brandon Jordan. He got in touch with him. He asked me if I was working out this week, and I said, ‘Yeah’. It was awesome to be able to work out with Cam, with Stephon Tuitt, Dan (McCullers), Tyson Alualu and some of the other guys as well because it’s awesome to be able to work with him and Brandon Jordan. Brandon Jordan is just so good at what he teaches. He’s an awesome guy to be around. It was just awesome to be able to train with him and those guys for a couple of days last week.”
This is all great news, but you have to wonder what kind of impact Highsmith can make outside of special teams as a rookie. He will have to battle the likes of Tuzar Skipper and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi for a backup spot behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Can he do it? It is tough to say, but the cards certainly aren’t stacked in his favor.