The Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff doesn’t like to heap praise on rookies. Never have, never will. At least not in the Mike Tomlin era. However, the past 24 hours they couldn’t help but do just that for the top two picks of the organization in the 2020 NFL Draft.
After Monday’s practice, Tomlin spoke to the media, and mentioned how the both Chase Claypool, second round pick out of Notre Dame, and Alex Highsmith, third round pick out of Charlotte, are showing they belong.
“Over the course of this camp process, they’ve got more opportunity against known veteran guys. And really, they don’t appear to be out of place in that company.” Tomlin said. “So far, so good. As they continue to prove themselves, that will increase and thus the growth process for those two and others. But those two you mentioned specifically are one of the ones I’m thinking about when I’m talking about guys that have had an opportunity to ascend and are taking advantage of it.”
If that doesn’t give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, I don’t know what will, but, in all seriousness, defensive coordinator Keith Butler doubled-down on the praise for Highsmith. During a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday morning, Butler said Highsmith “belongs” in the league, and in the spot where the team drafted him.
This per Brooke Pryor of ESPN who was on the call:
Keith Butler echoes Mike Tomlin's words yesterday: "Alex (Highsmith) has really shown that he belongs in the NFL. He belongs where we drafted him at."— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 25, 2020
But what can fans actually expect from Highsmigh in his rookie season? Most, if not all, considered him to be nothing more than a special teams ace, filling a role vacated by Tyler Matakevich going to the Buffalo Bills in free agency.
According to Butler, he expects Highsmith to get some in-game snaps on defense, not just on special teams.
This from Teresa Varley of Steelers.com, who was also on the live call:
Keith Butler said it's realistic to think that @highsmith34 will get some snaps this year. Said he is showing he belongs. What they have seen from him in practice is encouraging. Has a good attitude, doesn't need to be told things multiple times and doesn't repeat mistakes.— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 25, 2020
If Highsmith is able to get rotational snaps behind T.J. Watt or Bud Dupree, it would likely be the end of the road for either Ola Adeniyi or Tuzar Skipper. Adeniyi drew praise from Tomlin earlier in camp for his overall conditioning and readiness, while Skipper won’t have a preseason to show his worth like he did in 2019.
Butler wasn’t done talking about rookies though. When asked about the team’s top draft pick, he had some not-so-nice comments about his first impression of Claypool’s receiving skills.
Keith Butler on WR Chase Claypool, "when I first saw him, I thought he had a brick hands for a moment. But I've been impressed with him as of late. ... he's shown up last week or so."— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 25, 2020
He's impressed with him in the red zone, says he can body up or out-jump a guy.
It seems as if Claypool has shaken off the “brick hands” tag from the defensive coordinator, and looks to be a legitimate threat entering the 2020 regular season. The progress made in such a short amount of time for both Claypool and Highsmith is tremendous news for the 2020 Steelers.
Sure, it is great news for the future, but if the organization can get production out of their rookie class, in a year where their production wasn’t necessarily needed, it could be considered a huge perk for the team moving forward.
What’s next for Highsmith and the rest of the rookies? Moving through Training Camp preparing for the 2020 regular season just under three weeks away. It is hard to believe, but their first professional game action will be games which really count.
Fans everywhere hope they are ready, willing and able.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they roll through camp and prepare for the 2020 regular season.