The Pittsburgh Steelers were pretty thrilled last year when they got the opportunity to add outside linebacker Bud Dupree to their pass-rushing stable in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. They passed up other notable players at his position, such as Shane Ray, in order to target him specifically when their time to pick had come.
It was no surprise then to see that he played so early, and that he picked up sacks in his first two games certainly didn’t slow down his path toward playing time. In fact, he was in the starting lineup by the end of his rookie season, but even then he acknowledged hitting the ‘rookie wall’ and seeing his production wane.
During minicamp, he spoke to reporters about that fatigue and his fitness level going through his first season, telling Chris Bradford of the Beaver County Times, “my body just took a toll, but now I’m more prepared for that”, indicating that his second offseason has been much more informed by a better understanding of the rigors of going through the Steelers’ 18-game schedule.
“I’ve been training longer and doing different things that I didn’t have the time to do last year coming from college or that I didn’t do in college”, he said, adding, “just a lot of little mind things that you need to do”. Mental as well as physical preparation are, after all, equally important when it comes to playing within the confines of an 11-man unit, each dependent on the other to exercise a plan.
Dupree pointed toward teammates such as James Harrison and Shamarko Thomas as examples of the work ethic and dedication that he seeks to model his own regimen after. Harrison, of course, took Dupree and the other younger linebackers out with him to Arizona last year so that they could understand how he trains.
It is one thing for a rookie to learn simply how to play the game, and his position, within a particular defensive strategy, but it is entirely another to go through all that while simultaneously experiencing your physical limitations during the late stretches of a grueling NFL season, a reality that many rookies, particularly those who log many snaps, experience every year.
That is a big reason why it has become such a cliché regarding the biggest jump that a player will make in his career coming between his first and second seasons, because that is the time in which you learn what it takes to actually play in, compete in, and simply get through an NFL season, a longer season than in college routinely going up against considerably more talented players, all of whom had to learn that same lesson about taking care of your body.
Dupree, and the other Steelers players entering their second year, particularly Sammie Coates, seem to have caught on to that fact quite well, although the outside linebacker missed some time with a “soft tissue” injury. There is no reason to think that he will be anything less than full-go for training camp, however.