On Sunday evening, first-round rookie outside linebacker Bud Dupree became the fourth defensive rookie to enter the starting lineup for the Pittsburgh Steelers, making his first career start against the Seahawks. So far, only one of those three prior finished their rookie season in the starting lineup for non-injury reasons. Will Dupree?
During the 2013 NFL Draft, the team was conscious about the need to add a pass rusher, and selected outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in the first round. While he did not start the season opener, he did start the following week, and for a couple weeks after, but was then benched again. The only reason that he was starting again late in the year is because LaMarr Woodley was placed on injured reserve.
Last year, the Steelers drafted inside linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round and made him a plug-and-play starter. He remained in the starting lineup through an injury, but when he got injured again, he was displaced, and had to fight to earn playing time.
In the meantime, the team’s second-round pick, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, was injected into the starting lineup for the final quarter of the season, and has remained there, when healthy, since, currently standing at 4.5 sacks for the season.
While Dupree has not necessarily been lighting it up as a rookie, the team knows where his future lies, which is in the starting lineup, and Mike Tomlin and the defensive coaching staff chose to reward his progress, and acknowledge the fact that he does lead all outside linebackers with four sacks on the year.
Outside of the sacks, the 22-year-old’s first season has not been the most impactful. He has a small handful of additional pressures, and has a total of 20 tackles on the season while splitting reps in a four-man pass rush rotation.
When asked why Tomlin chose to put Dupree in the starting lineup across from Jones, displacing Arthur Moats, he it was due to the “continued growth and development of Bud. We wanted to increase the number of opportunities that he gets”, though he conceded that it did not work out that way.
In spite of the fact that he started, Moats actually logged a handful more snaps than Dupree, but the rookie actually came into the game leading all outside linebackers on the team in terms of number of snaps played. It has been fairly regular that the second platoon in has logged more snaps than the starters in a given game.
Tomlin went a step further in his commitment to Dupree, however, which could be seen as a bit surprising, when he said without prompting that “we put him on the field first, and we’ll continue to do that”. The team’s website does not reflect this lineup change yet, though we will see what the next official depth chart says.
The reason that the team is excited about getting the rookie into the lineup is because he has not hurt him when he has been on the field. It was only until they were comfortable with Tuitt in that regard that he moved into the starting lineup. If Dupree continues minimizing his mistakes, he should stay in the starting lineup—as far as that means anything in the team’s heavy rotation.