With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots and the Chiefs, the latter of whom they have already beaten.
The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.
Player: Bud Dupree, OLB
I don’t think anybody could accuse the Steelers of failing to invest in the outside linebacker position. They have drafted three of them in the first round since 2013, and two of them are currently starting for them.
Both of them have had their issues this season—they each missed one game so far due to injuries—but they have also flashed moments of success. Rookie T.J. Watt has been a pleasant surprise, but the real hopes and dreams for this season were placed in 2015 first-rounder Bud Dupree’s basket.
He was supposed to have his breakout season a year ago, but it was derailed completely by a groin injury that kept him on injured reserve for most of the year. He recorded a quick four and a half sacks in the final four games of the regular season, though, and made a couple of plays in the postseason.
This year, he has had to deal with a shoulder injury. It caused him to miss the opener, and he has spent most of the season getting pain injections before games, but the hope is that he is getting to a place where that won’t be necessary now and he can just go out there and play.
The third-year man does have 19 tackles and three sacks, to go along with a pass defensed. He has clearly made improvements rushing the passer, even if his improvements have been employed inconsistently.
He is still spending a bit too much time getting run up the arc, but he has learned to use counter moves, and he has been effective on stunts. His sack a couple of weeks ago looked like he was shot out of a cannon, such is his pure athleticism.
Still, he and others are hoping for a reset and a fresh start on the bye. He has done a mostly solid job this season, but he is not supposed to be a solid player. He is supposed to be an impact player, generating pressure and helping to force turnovers. That’s the player they need him to be.