It doesn’t seem to be very often that we get a clear definitive look at what the second-year jump is all about, but I think we saw that on display for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, particularly with respect to the performances of Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt versus their rookie first-round draft pick, Bud Dupree.
Shazier and Tuitt, of course, were the Steelers’ first- and second-round draft picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, respectively, with each entering the starting lineup as rookies at different points of the year.
Both of them are in the starting lineup on a full-time basis entering their second seasons, and it would be safe to say that they showed marked improvement in their 2015 debut.
Shazier, the inside linebacker, admittedly got off to a slow start, as he missed a tackle on the Vikings’ first play of the game, and later slipped trying to adjust his angle for an attack that Lawrence Timmons had to clean up.
On the same play, Tuitt nearly got his hands on the pass at the line of scrimmage. On the following play, Tuitt was worked down the line as Shazier screamed in to blow up a blocker.
In other words, there was some natural ebb and flow early on in their first few snaps of the new year, which should be no means be surprising, but both of them settled down well and were among the better players on the field.
Shazier was right there on Mike Wallace’s end around, for example, which helped funnel him to the sideline for William Gay to bring him down for a loss. His speed is a visible asset this year in a way that was not as obvious last season.
In contrast, Dupree’s debut performance did not go down nearly as smoothly. In fact, overall he had a rough night, looking out of his depth at times, which is not particularly surprising given what we already knew about his college experience immediately following the draft.
Dupree is an extremely athletic player for his position, but he will take time to develop and learn the nuances of his assignments, which makes his rookie season especially tough on him. That was certainly on display Sunday night as he struggled to set the edge in the run game and took wide angles.
He was virtually shut out as a pass rusher, getting late pressure on Ethan Hemer’s sack when the quarterback was flushed up the pocket, with little else to show for his efforts. There were times that he ended up on the ground.
That is not to say that his performance was really much of a disappointment. While we didn’t get an opportunity to see him flash much of that touted athleticism outside of his quick first step, I don’t think that we really saw anything that should have been surprising.
In fact, we saw some of the same things from Shazier and Tuitt around this time last season. Perhaps a year from now we will be drawing comparisons between Dupree and the next first-rounder.