The implications that stem from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ placing second-year starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree are many. The team was counting upon the former first-round pick to develop into a highly productive pass-rusher off the edge, a presence that they have lacked for about the past five years or so.
The loss of Dupree, even for half the season, is a big deal, make no mistake. But Alex Kozora will have more on that a bit later in the day. For the present, I am more focused on what Dupree’s absence in the lineup means for the team’s other second-year pass-rusher, Anthony Chickillo.
Chickillo spent all but the first three weeks of his rookie season in 2015 on the Steelers’ 53-man roster, though he was not a significant contributor. A sixth-round draft pick who has worked on converting from a defensive end to a linebacker, he was not quite prepared to be much more than he ended up being just yet.
The Steelers, however, need him to be more now, and I suspect that he will, particularly if we judge from his performance in the team’s final preseason game against the Panthers, during which he recorded a sack and a half, and produced two other notable pressures in less than a half of work.
There may be some due concern given the fact that he left that game with a foot injury, but indications seem to be that it is not serious. It is the second injury that he suffered during the preseason, though they are hopefully beyond him now.
Chickillo only played 22 snaps last season, all of which came against the Browns in one game. He failed to record a single statistic during the game, nor gain any meaningful pressure, though he did miss a tackle.
But he is better equipped to take on a defensive role this year than a season ago. He is now at the appropriate size that he is suited to play at, and has developed a keener sense of what to do as a pass rusher, as he has talked about in interviews, and as he showed against the Panthers.
He will have to be a core rotational player behind Arthur Moats on the left side of the defense. Moats also showed that he is still a more than capable defensive player, and has been the team’s most successful outside linebacker over the course of the preseason—although he also saw the most snaps.
But Moats has never been an outright starter for the Steelers. He rotated with James Harrison in 2014, and then with Dupree last year. Now he will pair with Chickillo, though he will likely still see the lion’s share of snaps.
Truth be told, this is probably what many of you have wanted to see, though not in the manner in which you wanted to see it. Chickillo is going to be given his opportunity to solidify for himself a future as a part of this defense as a rotational pass-rusher. And he may well just succeed in doing so.