As the Pittsburgh Steelers approached the 2021 regular season, they had to be concerned with their depth at the outside linebacker position. With Bud Dupree gone via free agency to the Tennessee Titans, the Steelers were faced with a pretty bare cupboard when it came to one of the most important positions in the team’s 3-4 base defense.
Nonetheless, when the 2021 NFL Draft came and went with the Steelers only taking Quincy Roche in the 6th round, you had a feeling the team was somehow satisfied with their depth.
Just to refresh your memory, this was the depth at outside linebacker after the 2021 draft:
Quincy Roche (R)
R = Rookie
No one viewed Marsh as a genuine No. 3 pass rusher, and fans were left wondering if the team would put that much pressure on a rookie like Roche, who wasn’t selected until the 6th round out of Miami, to be the guy to spell Watt and/or Highsmith.
Throughout it all, it seemed natural to believe Highsmith was going to be the guy opposite Watt in his sophomore season. That was, until the team signed Melvin Ingram III right before training camp began.
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, fans were wondering if Highsmith was the starter, or if Ingram came into to do what he does best — start. The answer to this question isn’t decided yet, but Highsmith is extremely excited to be working with someone as experienced and seasoned as Ingram.
“It was awesome,” Highsmith told reporters last week. “So far Melvin has been great for us here. He’s been a guy that I’ve been able to ask questions and be able to learn from. He’s a veteran, Pro Bowl guy. All of us were excited whenever we brought him in. He’s going to be a great addition to our D-line and our outside ‘backer room.
“I’m really excited for the pass rush we’re gonna have this year. He’s been great so far, works hard. He has a lot of knowledge. I’m excited to just continue to work with him.”
For those who paid attention last season, you shouldn’t expect much of a sound byte out of Highsmith. He knows he should say he is excited about Ingram, but one thing which isn’t stretching the truth is the genuine excitement for the team’s pass rush in 2021.
“I just know it’s gonna be a good one,” Highsmith said. “All three of us, I think, are definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with. I’m excited to work with him and T.J. this year, it’s gonna be awesome.”
But who will be starting? Is this going to be a training camp battle? Is the job actually up for grabs? Maybe our assumptions of Ingram being pass rusher No. 3 were overblown, and Highsmith’s job is anything but set in stone. Either way, Highsmith is going to do whatever is asked of him, in whatever role.
“I’m just gonna go in and whatever role I play, that’s what I play. I’m gonna have that starter mindset, of course. But whatever role that I have, that’s the role I want to play. My role is to be the best player I can be for this team.”
Highsmith is an easy player to root for. He doesn’t make waves, puts his head down and works and is always being praised by coaches for his preparation and willingness to improve. Even if Ingram sees equal, or more, snaps than Highsmith, fans shouldn’t view it as a slight against Highsmith. It might just be he needs more time. Not every pass rusher is a player like Watt who comes into the league and makes an impact almost immediately.
Just don’t expect Highsmith to give up the No. 2 spot opposite Watt without a fight, and I’ll never count out Alex Highsmith in that situation.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.