Mission number one for a pass rusher? Fold the edge. This is why there is such a strong correlation between three-cone times and top pass rushers. Von Miller could run under a coffee table. Alex Highsmith is unlikely to ever reach that turn at Gumby level, but he is trying to be more flexible to run under and beyond left tackles this season. Highsmith joined Sirius XM Move channels with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan to explain how it becomes more flexible.
“One thing that I was able to do working on that to be able to help improve that is work on my hip flexibility,” he said on the show. “So I did a lot of hip stretches and stuff like that. Stretching my quad, stretching my hip so I can really stretch out and get out. Because the pass rush really starts with the start. If you don’t have a good start, an o lineman is going to beat you in his place and now he’s waiting for you.
Coming out of Charlotte, Highsmith recorded a three-cone 7.32 in the 2020 NFL Combine, a below average number. He was not known as a flexible or overly athletic passing thrower and won most often with technique and a variety of pass-rushing moves. But his game has improved since making the jump to the NFL, improving his power last year. This season he is working on improving his turn to turn the corner more efficiently.
Highsmith also discussed improving his takeoff by changing his stride length.
“I’m really working on my start in the pass rush game, and I think that really starts with getting a good first step with a stride length.”
Stride length is not something often talked about in a pass rush breakdown. Presumably, Highsmith talks about increasing his stride length to help gain ground on the slam, improving his takeoff and forcing tackles to open their hips to defend the edge. This will open up the rest of his pass arsenals, making his inside counters more effective. Highsmith’s favorite counter is his inside spin. Improving his edge/speed rushes will make this counter all the more powerful.
Highsmith attempts to be the perfect complement to TJ Watt. He won’t win more than 15 sacks like Watt who is aiming to hold the record for sacks in a season, but if all goes well Highsmith could flirt with double figures this season. He ended 2021 with six sacks but ended the year strong, collecting four in his last four games. If a groin injury early in the season hadn’t slowed him down, he might have reached ten. Pittsburgh will need its passing rush to continue to be strong, but its run defense must be the area that sees a significant jump after finishing 32nd in the league last year.