The Steelers very clearly like Alex Highsmith. It’s why they selected him in the third round of last year’s draft. It’s why they continued to start him when they signed decorated veteran Melvin Ingram on the eve of training camp, and why they were willing to trade Ingram last week when he became displeased with his playing time.

The Steelers believe Highsmith will be a quality starter opposite T.J. Watt, but he’s off to a slow start in his first season as a full-time starter.

Highsmith has 1 1/2 sacks through the first eight games of the season, and they came in one game against the Seahawks a few weeks ago.

“Right now, I’m not happy with the way I’m playing production-wise,” Highsmith said following Wednesday’s practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side. “I know the game is starting to slow down for me, but production-wise, I know I can be a lot better.”

Unlike his predecessor, Bud Dupree, Highsmith has not yet been able to take advantage of playing with Watt, who attracts double- and triple-teams and often left Dupree in one-on-one situations.

Dupree cleaned up over his final two seasons with the Steelers before he signed as a free agent with Tennessee in March. He had 11 1/2 sacks in 2019 and eight in 11 games last season before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in December.

“Ultimately I just try to do my job,” Highsmith said. “I know if I do my job, the plays will come.”

The Steelers drafted Highsmith knowing he would one day take over for Dupree. When they signed Ingram in July, it was more of an insurance policy against Watt or Highsmith getting injured than providing competition for Highsmith.

Ingram, perhaps unbeknownst to him, was here to play as a No. 3 outside linebacker.

Even though Ingram has been criticized for seeking a trade — a request the Steelers fulfilled last week when they sent him to the Chiefs — his teammates have shown nothing but respect for him.

“It really sucks with the Melvin situation because he was a great guy,” Highsmith said. “Ever since he got here, I was thankful for everything he showed me. Being a guy from North Carolina just like I am ... it really sucks the situation couldn’t get worked out. I’m excited for the guys we have right now, but Melvin was a great guy when he was here. I wish him nothing but the best.”

Highsmith got his feet wet as a starter late last season after Dupree was injured. In six starts, including the playoff game against the Browns, he had one sack and finished with two during his rookie season.

Highsmith is well-regarded against the run, but edge defenders first and foremost are expected to produce as pass rushers. Highsmith has been credited with only 12 pressures all season. Watt, for example, has 27 pressures to go along with his 11 1/2 sacks.

Not that Highsmith feels the pressure to match the feats of his All-Pro teammate.

“I just feel like I have to be the best person I can be,” he said. “That starts with doing my job. Ultimately, if I do my job, I’ll make the plays. I’m happy to see one of the best players in the league thriving like that. It’s great to work with a guy like that, but I just try to be the best I can be every day.”

Recommended for you

Trending Food Videos