The Washington Times - January 30, 2013, 06:40PM

Lorenzo Alexander on Wednesday endorsed Redskins assistant coach Richard Hightower to replace special teams coordinator Danny Smith, who is leaving the team to join the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff.

Alexander, the NFC’s special teams representative in the Pro Bowl this season, believes Hightower has grown in three seasons as the Redskins’ assistant special teams coach.

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“To be able to communicate to guys what he wants and what is expected of him is definitely one of the biggest things I’ve seen improvement since he’s come on board,” Alexander said. “I’ve got full confidence in what he’s able to do as a special teams coach, just seeing him work with the guys.

“He’s a great guy; another guy that’s passionate and very detailed and is about players. I think he’s a great players coach. I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t get it. I think he’d be a great fit.”

Hightower, who also was an assistant defensive backs coach in 2012, had a variety of responsibilities involving special teams. He broke down film and worked with gunners and returners, among other areas, Alexander said.

“He knew the whole scheme and coached everybody up, always giving me pointers and stuff that I can improve on,” said Alexander, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. “He’s somebody that actually played the game, special teams, as well, at a high level at [the University of] Texas, so he’s somebody that understands every different aspect of the game. I hope he gets it.”

Hightower has been an NFL assistant since 2006, when he broke into the league with Houston.

Smith, meanwhile, has agreed to join the Steelers and return to his hometown, a source confirmed Wednesday. The source spoke on the condition anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about a move that neither team confirmed. UPDATE: The Steelers late Wednesday night confirmed they hired Smith.

Smith did not return multiple phone messages. Dan Hellie of NBC4 first reported the news.

Smith has coached Washington’s special teams since 2004, when former head coach Joe Gibbs returned. Known for his high energy and colorful personality on the practice field, Smith has long been favored by high-ranking Redskins executives and players. Redskins players who have played for other teams constantly praised Smith’s preparation, study and attention to detail in game-planning for opponents.

“I’m surprised,” Alexander said. “I didn’t see that coming. It’s going to be a big loss for as far as what we do on teams. Definitely sad to see Danny go.

“I just think he was very genuine up front as far as where you stood, not only with him but with the team. I think he did a great job of motivating players, being very honest. I think that’s why guys really loved him for who he was and everything he brought to the table as far as his passion and commitment and detail-oriented, which really stood out amongst the coaches.”

After Washington had punts blocked in each of their first two games this season, players defended Smith by publicly assuming blame for breakdowns.

The Redskins’ kickoff coverage unit ranked 18th in the NFL in 2012 with an opponents’ average starting field position of the 22.1-yard line. Washington’s kickoff return unit ranked 26th with an average starting field position of the 20.6-yard line.

Washington’s punt coverage unit ranked eighth in the NFL (8.2 yards per return), and the punt return unit ranked 17th (9.3)

The Redskins deactivated return specialist Brandon Banks for the final four games of the regular season and the playoff game due to ineffectiveness.