Ever since they last played in the Super Bowl in 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves suffering a shortage of pass rush, as their sack and pressure totals plummeted from near the top of the league to near the bottom.
In part to try to alleviate that, the Steelers turned to a rotation of outside linebackers under first-year defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s watch, with Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats as the ‘starters’ and James Harrison and then-rookie Bud Dupree rotating in—although the latter two played the most snaps, and Dupree was starting over Moats by the end of the season.
While Pittsburgh only netted 15 sacks combined from their outside linebackers—Harrison led with five and Jones brought up the rear with two, while Moats and Dupree each had four—the team overall improved, finishing the year third in the league with a total of 48 sacks.
This year, they are hoping to get more out of their starters at the outside linebacker position, who are projected to be Jones and Dupree. Outside linebackers coach Joey Porter recently told Dale Lolley that he expects things to change this year, saying, “I don’t think the rotation will be what it was”.
His follow-up comment, however, indicated that his thinking is based more on what he anticipates seeing out of Jones and Dupree rather than a strategic plan to keep the starters on the field more frequently. “If they are going to play like we think they can”, referring to Jones and Dupree, “I’m going to play the hot hand”.
Still, there is some intrinsic truth to it, as Dupree had, as mentioned, already taken over Moats’ starting spot by the end of the season, and was already logging more snaps than him, so it would not be unreasonable to speculate that that trend will continue to advance. As for Harrison, he is certainly not getting younger. They failed to monitor his snaps the way they planned last year, but the feeling is that they will be more conscientious of his playing time this time around.
“Those two are the future”, Porter reiterated of Dupree and Jones, though the latter is entering his final season after the team chose not to pick up his fifth-year option. “The rotation came from the fact we have to get some production some way. If those guys get hot, those guys are our starters. You can’t justify taking anybody off the field if they’re hot. It just doesn’t make any sense”.
Both Jones and Dupree have slimmed down from last season, according to reports, and Dupree spent some of the offseason working with Chuck Smith on his handwork and pass-rushing skills in preparation for his first full season as a starter.
The plan is to let them go and see how much they can take on for themselves, but should either falter, Porter will likely not hesitate to pull them out of the game and rotate in Harrison and Moats, and maybe even Anthony Chickillo, to find the ‘hot hand’, if it means getting sacks and making plays.