The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a state of transition, no doubt. Any time you lose a Hall of Fame quarterback who has manned the position since George W. Bush was in the Oval Office, it leaves a void—no matter the results from 2021.
Even so, we know some of the Steelers’ veteran stars and how they’ll be keys to the game. Can La’el Collins stymie T.J. Watt? Will Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple be able to contain Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool once again this year?
All valid questions.
But, there are a couple of other players to keep an eye on this week, according to BLEAV Network’s Mark Bergin. The co-host of BLEAV in Steelers (with former Steelers defensive back, Ike Taylor), pointed out two somewhat-under-the-radar Pittsburgh players to watch in Sunday’s season-opener when he joined us on The Orange and Black Insider.
The first Bergin pointed out was defensive lineman Alex Highsmith. After being a mid-round pick in 2020 from small-school UNC Charlotte, Highsmith has paved a nice pro career for himself. He does get overshadowed by Watt and the great Cam Heyward, though.
“One player we haven’t seen a lot of this preseason because of injuries is Alex Highsmith, who plays that outside linebacker position opposite T.J. Watt. Highsmith lines up over opposing teams’ left tackles,” Bergin said. “Watt’s going to garner a lot of attention on the other side...someone’s going to have to win single-team, one-on-one matchups and Alex Highsmith has to take advantage.”
Highsmith had six sacks last year, along with 15 tackles for loss. He didn’t suit up for the first matchup of 2021 versus the Bengals, but did for the second. He had two of those 15 tackles for loss in that contest at then-Paul Brown Stadium.
“This is where he’s got to eat...so I want to see what he can do. Again, didn’t see a lot of him in the preseason due to injury, but when he’s out on the field Week 1 and so forth, I’m excited to see what he can do because someone is going to have to take advantage, given the time and attention being paid to Watt.”
It’s likely the Bengals will use some combination of Alex Cappa, Hayden Hurst and Drew Sample to aid Collins with Watt. Devin Asiasi won’t be available to help in any regard as he is out this week.
Earlier in the show, our own John Sheeran asked Bergin to pick between a few descriptors of rookie wide receiver George Pickens and the BLEAV host went with “scary”.
“I wish I could say ‘all of the above’, but I’ll go with ‘scary’ right now,” Bergin said with a chuckle. “Because it’s not just the highlight reel catch/toe-tap in the back of the end zone we saw in one of the first preseason games, what I look at is the blocking ability and just being a downright bully.”
Since being drafted in the second round and in his work throughout the preseason, much has been made of Pickens and his big-time shoves of defensive backs trying to either press him, or get in on run defense. The former Georgia Bulldogs receiver seemingly embodies that “Steelers mentality”—AKA being a bully on the field.
“You go back to his Georgia footage and he was playing against Georgia Tech...I don’t want to see him get ejected from a football game like he did in that one, but that kind of attitude is contagious and that ‘want to’ in blocking.” Bergin concluded with telling us how his co-host Taylor called Pickens “the real deal” after seeing him in-person at Steelers training camp.
Obviously, Pickens isn’t as far under the radar as say, Highsmith, given his draft status and being a favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2022, but he is contending for touches with Johnson and Claypool.
It will be interesting to see how these two players end up impacting the game on Sunday. Our thanks to Mark Bergin of BLEAV in Steelers for the chat. Be sure to go check out their show!
If you’re unable to join us live here at Cincy Jungle or YouTube for every episode, all of our podcast content is available here on CJ, the Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Google Play Music apps, our Orange and Black Insider YouTube channel, as well as through Megaphone and, as always, on iTunes! Thanks for listening and go subscribe to our channels to be notified when we’re going live and when new episodes are available!