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Mike Tomlin: It’s reasonable to expect a significant rise in Alex Highsmith’s play

When outside linebacker Bud Dupree went down with a torn ACL in December of last year, the Steelers started then-rookie Alex Highsmith for the rest of the season.

Now with Dupree departing for the greener pastures of Tennessee in free agency, Highsmith is slated to take over that role full-time.

During a pre-draft press conference on Monday, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said the team is set up for Highsmith to meet the moment in 2021.

“In regards to the loss of Bud and the expectations and the depth and things at that position, the lynchpin to that entire discussion is the natural maturation of Alex Highsmith from Year 1 to Year 2,” Tomlin said. “You know the standard of expectations that we have for our young players moving from [Year] 1 to [Year] 2. He could be the poster boy for that. We need a significant rise in terms of all areas of play from him. But I also think it’s reasonable to expect it given what he’s been exposed to, given the quality young man that he is and his work ethic and the environment we intend to put him in. I think it’s reasonable to expect him to rise up and meet the challenges.”

A third-round pick in 2020, Highsmith appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, starting five. He recorded an interception, 2.0 sacks, five tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits in his first season.