Film Study: Can Alex Highsmith be “Next Man Up?”

By: Bill Washinski


Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin’s “next man up” philosophy is getting put to the test with the injury to Bud Dupree, given how much they have relied on him in 2020. It falls to rookie Alex Highsmith to step up — and it’s asking a lot to replace 48 snaps a game of productivity with someone who has been playing 12 snaps a game.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the level of play that Dupree has delivered this year, but Highsmith was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2020 NFL Draft facing a strong realism that Dupree’s contract expectations would exceed the Steelers expectations. After viewing tape of Highsmith, I must admit, I have increased confidence in his ability to fill in.

What can we expect of Highsmith? As the 2020 Steelers defensive philosophy relies on the OLBs to make big plays, particularly with pressure, we’ll need to see him shed blockers vs. the run, recognize when to drop in coverage and win one-on-one battles to reach the QB.

Highsmith has shown he has the capability — which we can see in viewing three plays covering each situation:


1. Stopping the Run

We can see Highsmith make his big play vs. the Houston Texans here:

Playing the de facto DE from the OLB position, Highsmith easily sheds the block and completes the play to take down the running back in a tackle for a loss.


2. In Pass Coverage

While we don’t see often our OLBs in coverage; we do like to employ variations of the cover-3 and a known aspect of it is for the OLB to recognize a change in assignment and drop back into coverage vs. rushing the QB (which is exactly what James Harrison did in Super Bowl XLIII). Against the Baltimore Ravens, we can see Highsmith play heads up in coverage in his most recognizable play to date:

This interception was huge as it shifted momentum of the game to the Steelers. If Highsmith continues to demonstrate this level of football I.Q., it will really help.

3. Rushing the Passer

The key to the Steelers defensive success is still in the pass rush. Highsmith does a great job in this play vs. the Dallas Cowboys, going straight up vs. the Cowboys LT.

Highsmith gets his 1st career sack out of the 2 DL – 2 LB scheme, with only a 4-man rush. This is encouraging because it’s crucial as his snap count is going to greatly increase (which has increased over the past 5 weeks). He’ll need to generate consistent pressure vs. the LT.


Alex Highsmith just went from situational player to one with big shoes to fill, here’s to his stepping up and showing he can.


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