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Highsmith has high hopes for 2024

For Alex Highsmith, the numbers weren't what he hoped they would be in 2023.

After recording 14.5 sacks in 2022, his sack total dropped to seven in 2023.

"I don't think it was my best year," Highsmith admitted after the season.

But sometimes, it's not just about the numbers.

That is something Highsmith has to remind himself, as he can be his own worst critic.

"I think I improved in many different ways. I do at times put too much pressure on myself," said Highsmith. "It does get to my head when for example, I know my sack numbers were down this year, compared to last year. But I felt overall I was rushing as good, if not better, getting pressures and stuff like that.

"But sometimes the numbers game and stats can get my head. The games that I played best in, the games that I go out and perform best, are the games where I play free and just go out there and have fun and not worry about the pressure, but just go out and just do what I do what I love to do, do what God has blessed me to do, and that's to play football.

"I know that if I just go out there and prepare the best way I can and just go out and play, that's when I perform my best.

"I hold myself to a higher standard. I always want to get better. That is what I strive for."

Highsmith said it isn't always easy to not think about the numbers, but it's the only way to make it work.

"It's hard. You can't get caught in the comparison thing," said Highsmith. "Knowing this is how far I've come and what I've done in the league so far, that's what gives me the confidence. Knowing I have been in double digits in sacks. I have caused forced fumbles. I've made a lot of plays. That's what gives you confidence."

Take a look at photographs of Steelers LB Alex Highsmith from the 2023 season

Make no mistake, Highsmith once again had a strong season in 2023, starting all 17 games and finishing with 57 tackles, 34 of them solo stops, eight tackles for a loss, seven sacks, three passes defensed, two interceptions, including his first pick six, and two forced fumbles.

One of his best, and for him most memorable performances last season came against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 on Monday Night Football. On the opening play of the game, Highsmith intercepted Browns' quarterback Deshaun Watson and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.

His impact would be felt at the end of the game as well, when he sacked Watson and forced a fumble that fellow linebacker T.J. Watt recovered and returned 16 yards for a go-ahead touchdown that gave the Steelers a 26-22 victory.

"The Browns game was my favorite," said Highsmith. "That was my first pick-six I think ever. I might have had one in Pop Warner. For it to happen the first play of the game and then get a strip sack at the end. And to do it against an AFC rival, that was cool."

What happened last year, was last year, though.

Highsmith now has his sights set on the 2024 season and thinks the defense can be one of the best in the NFL.

"We can be one of the best for sure. We can be a force," said Highsmith. "When we're all healthy, we have so many veteran guys, so many leaders on the defensive side of the ball. That's one thing that helps us be successful. The main thing for us is just staying healthy and we know that we can be a force when we're at full strength. I'm just excited to be able to go to work with these guys this coming season."