Earlier in the offseason, maybe around the start of training camp, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler talked about wanting to move away from the platooning at the outside linebacker position that they started and relied upon during the 2015 season, basically out of necessity, since there was no individual player who was able to step up and take command of the defense.
The hope was that their two former first-round draft picks—Jarvis Jones in 2013 and Bud Dupree in 2015—would be able to take on the load and see the majority of snaps on the right and left sides of the defense, respectively.
Jones has had a couple years of a head start, and so it doesn’t appear at this point that anybody believes he is the future, as evidenced by the front office’s decision not to pick up his fifth-year option earlier on in the year. But there are understandably high hopes for the extremely athletic Dupree in his second year, which has now been derailed.
As we all know by now, of course, Dupree was placed on injured reserve after being on the 53-man roster for 24 hours so that he would be eligible to be designated for return following the eighth week of the season—if he is able to.
Dupree just recently underwent surgery to clean up a core muscle issue that has had him sidelined for the majority of the offseason, back into the spring and all the way through the preseason. He participated in just a few practices, and later admitted that he tried to return too early.
Now he is going to miss at least half of the season—as Jones actually did in his second year as well, though that happened a couple of games into the season—and it forces the Steelers to scrap their plans and rely once again upon a rotational situation, this time without arguably their marquee piece—or at least the one that should be.
Dupree platooned with veteran Arthur Moats during his rookie season, and in fact Moats started for most of the season, though the rookie slightly edged him out in playing time. The veteran also started and worked in a platoon on the right side the year before.
The Steelers are asking him to resume that role once again, only now as the featured rusher, with second-year Anthony Chickillo, a former sixth-round draft pick on whom the team seems to be reasonably high, mixed in order the course of the game.
It is unclear just how extensively he might play—the one game last season in which he saw time on the defensive side of the ball, he logged 22 snaps—but he will play, as Butler confirmed later on after talking about Dupree landing on injured reserve.
The Steelers would love for some player to step up and demand the lion’s share of snaps, but the advantage of the platoon is that that is unnecessary. And that is their only choice right now without the appropriate talent that they had just five years ago.