Monday, August 15, 2022

Steelers’ Alex Highsmith wants to be strong complement to T.J. Watt in 2022: ‘I gotta hit double digit sacks’

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There’s a good chance the average NFL fan doesn’t know who Alex Highsmith is, but he’s looking to change that in 2022, and in a big way. Currently taking up residence on a Pittsburgh Steelers defense led up front by someone the entire world is aware of, linebacker T.J. Watt, the team’s four-time All-Pro and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and another four-time All-Pro in defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, Highsmith is soaking up all he can and wants Year 3 to be his breakout season.

Having been elevated to the role of full-fledged starter in 2021, the former third-round pick (2020) who earned honors as a two-time first-team All-Conference USA talent with UNC Charlotte, finished with a career-best tally of six sacks last season for the Steelers — tripling his output over his rookie season. 

Now, he’s looking for similar exponential growth in that category when the 2022 season gets underway.

“I gotta hit those double digit sack markers,” Highsmith recently told Sirius XM’s “Movin’ the Chains” show. “And so I’m just gonna do whatever I can. I’ve been working my butt off this offseason. Just be the best player that I can be. 

“I’m in great shape right now. … I know the goal that I’ve had for this year is that 10-to-12 sack mark and just continuing to make plays in the run game.”

Reaching that mark is always easier said than done, but Highsmith has both the talent and, now, the reps to afford him the opportunity to achieve his mission, and head coach Mike Tomlin would love nothing more than to see it happen. It would create a dominant bookend situation opposite Watt on a Steelers defense that may be looked upon early to do much of the heavy lifting as the team enters the first year of the post-Ben Roethlisberger era, but Highsmith’s reference to being in great shape is notable.

That’s because he was slowed by a groin injury early in 2021 but, once fully recovered, delivered 4.5 sacks over his final eight games of the season. Additionally, considering there’s no fifth-year option to speak of when looking at his rookie contract, this will truly mark the most pivotal season of Highsmith’s young career — one where he can potentially position himself for early extension talks in Pittsburgh.

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