Despite finishing the season 9-8, winning seven of their last nine games, and four in a row to complete the winning season, it was too little too late for the black-and-gold. Nonetheless, players can still draw positives from the season, despite how it ended.
One player who has a lot of positives to glean from 2022 is pass rusher Alex Highsmith. Not only did he register 14.5 sacks, but he is setting himself up for a major pay day as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
After the season was over, and the Browns game came to a close, Highsmith reflected on the past season, and different aspects of it.
First, was the job Mike Tomlin did not just turning the season around, but keeping his players focused and detail-oriented even when they entered their bye week with a 2-6 record.
“I think it really just shows what type of coach he is in how we were able to finish. Of course, the beginning of the season was not how we wanted to start, 2-6 is never how you want to start, but like I said yesterday, I’m just proud of how this team finished.
“We’re resilient, we just kept fighting and kept fighting, and I think it gave us some momentum going into next season.” Highsmith said. “But it does suck when you don’t make the playoffs because you’re missing a chance to go win a Super Bowl. We know that we have a great team, so it definitely sucks doing all we could and still not being able to get there.”
With the season well in the rear view mirror, now comes the harsh reality of roster turnover. It is inevitable to lose players every offseason in the free agent era, but Highsmith sees hope in the future. Mainly in the quarterback the Steelers now have at the helm.
“Yeah, I think it’s so important to carry that momentum to next year.” said Highsmith. “We’ve got a core group of young guys. I love seeing how Kenny [Pickett] and the offense started to gel towards the end of the year. Just seeing his growth and what type of leader he is, I’m excited for him to be our quarterback going into the future. He’s such a competitor. I could tell that from training camp what type of competitor he was, and just week by week he kept going and getting better.
“I know that we’ll continue to get better overall, and I think us as a defense, we were playing some of our best ball at the end of the year, creating more turnovers and getting more sacks and stuff, so I think we’ll be able to build on it next year.”
One part of the 2023 offseason which hasn’t been noted enough, is the inevitable departure of Brian Flores. The Steelers gave Flores a job when it seemed no one would last offseason. After having a lawsuit placed on the NFL, Flores was out of a head coaching job and looked as if he could be black-balled by the league. Nonetheless, Flores took advantage of the job he was offered, and looks to turn it into a promotion in some way.
Highsmith loved the addition when he heard about Flores joining the coaching staff, and Flores lived up to the billing this past season.
“He’s a great coach. I remember when the news got out that he was coming here. I was super excited because I’d met him before at the Combine and interviews and stuff, and he’s such a great coach, football minded. He wants the best out of each one of his guys, but he’s definitely added so much value to our defense. He’s definitely been one of our good coaches.”
The Steelers now turn their attention to what could be a very long offseason. How the team approaches free agency at the start of the new league year (March 13) and the 2023 NFL Draft will be extremely telling as it pertains to the prospect of the Steelers being contenders next season.