While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have drafted outside linebacker Bud Dupree to be the future of the position, they certainly have not been shy about playing him early and often. Through the first quarter of the season, he has already logged close to 150 snaps, which would put him on pace for around 600 snaps during his rookie season.
More to the point is that he is second only to James Harrison in snap count at the position, where the Steelers have actively utilized a four-man rotation to help keep the pass rush threat throughout the game. the outside linebackers have produced 4.5 sacks through four games, and the team as a whole has notched 14.
Dupree has two of them, but both came in the first two games, and hasn’t had much of an impact yet as a pass rusher beyond those two sacks. He is clearly learning on the job and making mistakes along the way, but not to the detriment of the defensive structure, which is all that you could ask for at this point.
There are moments where you have to wonder what he is doing or thinking, however. On the first play of the Ravens’ second drive, for example, he aligned outside of the tight end on the left side and let him dictate the contact, which as a result pulled him about five yards away from the play and creating a wide open running lane if the back were able to get to it. He needs to use his strength to tighten the pocket in situations such as this.
Unsurprisingly, Dupree also remains a work in progress in pass protection. Later on the same drive, he gave up a 10-yard reception to the tight end after dropping, looking smooth doing so, but he quickly lost a feel for where the receiver was, and Joe Flacco was able to hit his target by throwing away from the linebacker.
Not that there are no signs of growth, as he has shown a number of times that he can set the edge against the run when both his mind and body are in sync. Midway through the second quarter, for example, he was able to press the tight end, freeing his inside arm while doing so to fill the lane, forcing Justin Forsett to shift inside into traffic. Dupree ultimately got back into the play and helped pull down the runner from behind after a one-yard gain.
The rookie showed a similar performance late in the third quarter, this time working against the right tackle with the offensive line on a moving shift. The runner thought he saw daylight, but Dupree quickly filled the hole as he helped bring him down after another one-yard gain.
Two plays later, the Ravens found themselves facing a fourth-and-one, with Flacco dropping back to pass. Dupree responded by dropping into coverage, and he very nearly managed to swat the ball down on the pass aimed to the tight end he was covering.
Fast forwarding to overtime, Dupree recorded his one notable pressure in the passing game on a second and seven play on the Ravens’ first possession in extra time. Rushing out of the nickel, the 22-year-old showed off his explosive first step to beat the right tackle up the arc, showing off some corner bend before the tackle recovered to clip him just slightly.
Dupree quickly regained composure, however, and continued the pursuit, with Flacco just getting off the ball before being hit by multiple defenders, including the rookie first-rounder. If he can stack a few pass rushes like that per game, and set the edge as he showed that he can, then he has the capacity to be a fine player for a long time for this team, as the talent is clearly there, something that has not always been immediately obvious with other first-round selections.