If there is one player above all that the Pittsburgh Steelers are counting upon to play a major role this season that has not necessarily done so or been able to do so previously, then it has to be second-year former first-round draft pick Bud Dupree, an outside linebacker who is projected to start this season.
While Dupree played significant time last season—he played the second-most snaps among outside linebackers on the team—and finished the year in the starting lineup, he performance, and particularly his productivity, waned, with his four sacks limited to the first half of the season.
He mentioned during the season, and then several times in the offseason, that he felt by the end of the year that his resources were depleted, and that he was feeling fatigued, believing that he had hit the proverbial rookie wall. There is some statistical correlation to support that self-assessment as well.
To that end, Dupree took it upon himself to drop some weight this offseason in the hopes of improving his endurance, which is especially important given that he should be taking on an even bigger role and playing more snaps as he enters his second season, and his first as a full-time starter—such that there will be one, assuming that a rotation remains the norm.
He told reporters yesterday that he dropped 20 pounds from last season, citing a current weight of 254, which is still quite sizable for an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but down from where he was at the Combine and during the season last year.
While his quickness was never at issue—in fact, his first step was regarded as his greatest asset as a pass rusher, and he showed nothing last season to indicate otherwise—dropping the weight should help his overall game, and could make him even quicker off the edge.
More importantly, if he indeed suffered endurance issues as he claimed, then the lower weight, and no doubt better body fat index, should enable him to greatly improve his down-to-down consistency and overall effort, which, while not necessarily lacking, could be improved upon.
Head coach Mike Tomlin talked about the weight that some of his young players have dropped recently heading into their second seasons and how that was enlightened by their misconceptions of what they were getting into heading into the NFL.
“A lot of times guys come into the professional ranks thinking it’s a big man’s game”, Tomlin told reporters yesterday according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But more than that, it’s a highly-conditioned man’s game. These guys are showing you they understand the level of conditioning is much more important than what they weigh”.
The head coach also said that he wasn’t concerned with Dupree playing at a lower weight as the team defers to the player’s belief that it will be of benefit to his stamina and endurance. And we all know how much Tomlin promotes the conditioning aspect of the game.