Rookie first-round outside linebacker Bud Dupree logged 26 out of 61 defensive snaps for the Pittsburgh Steelers in his debut against the Patriots last Thursday, which is perhaps a bigger total than many may have expected, given the talk of a learning curve required for him to adapt to the position.
In fact, he played more snaps at left outside linebacker than did Arthur Moats, who is nominally the starter at the position.
The Steelers have been committed throughout this offseason to employing a platoon of pass rushers, rotating four outside linebackers, two on each side—sometimes even mixing and matching between sides—and Dupree seems to be as big a part of that as anybody.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game—in which backup right outside linebacker James Harrison logged 36 snaps to Jarvis Jones’ 26—that the coaching staff was not monitoring snap counts, but rather using a more intuitive approach to make use of their bounty of rushers, who combined to produce one sack, from Dupree, for a loss of zero yards.
In his debut game, Dupree registered two tackles and the aforementioned sack, and overall did not embarrass himself—but he had one glaring gaffe in particular that led to the biggest play for either team of the night.
On a passing play, in which the defense was employing a three-deep zone, if I recall correctly, Dupree drew the responsibility of covering the tight end, but he failed to carry him up the seam as he went vertical, which led to an easy catch and run of 52 yards.
It was certainly a teachable moment for the young pass rusher who has flashed all of the physical tools that you would want in the pursuit of building the ideal 3-4 outside linebacker. In spite of the glaring mistake, Dupree has made clear strides since his first preseason appearance.
It has obviously been enough that the coaching staff does not seem particularly worried about baptizing him in a trial by fire, including giving him such assignments as carrying the best tight end in the game, and perhaps one of the best all-time, on a vertical route.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see not only how, and how often, Dupree gets used against the 49ers, but also how he performs. I don’t expect San Francisco to use their tight ends vertically very often, as they are an offense that is geared toward grinding it out on the ground.
Dupree is certainly strong enough to set the edge, but he has had difficulty getting off blocks to make plays that come his way, a blotch on his college resume and something that we have also seen during the preseason.
But he has also shown the capability of making some plays in the running back—one of his tackles in the opener came at the goal line—and he also showed hints of progress as a pass rusher during the preseason against the Packers, even if his first official sack came unblocked.