The Pittsburgh Steelers have not had a lot of continuity between their two outside linebackers in a while—not at least since James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley formed the best tandem in the league from about 2008 to 2011. But there has been a lot of tinkering since that time.
It started with Jarvis Jones, and since 2013, we have had a frequent game of mix and match including Jason Worilds, Harrison, Arthur Moats, Anthony Chickillo, and finally, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, who figure to be the first returning pair of intended day-one starters in a while.
I say intended, of course, because Dupree didn’t get to start the 2017 season opener due to a shoulder injury.
As much as rushing the passer is simply about beating the man in front of you, it is true that pass-rushers must also work in sync to be as effective as they can be. When Woodley and Harrison were at the top of their games, they complemented each other, and made the other better.
That is what Watt and Dupree are hoping to do for the Steelers this upcoming season and beyond, and to that end, they and the linebackers as a whole have really been looking to come together and grow as brothers both on and off the field.
“I think as a linebacking unit this year, we’re hanging out a lot off the field, we’re building that chemistry that we need to have a big season”, Watt told SiriusXM Radio during minicamp last week, “so I think that will help us out a lot, and we’re going to have something special in store this year”.
Not that that necessarily includes the time we’re currently in. I don’t know what plans are in store for certain. Watt told reporters during that same interview that he plans to go back up to Wisconsin to train, and wasn’t even particularly concerned about whether or not his brothers would join him.
As for Dupree, he has spent the past couple of years around this time last year working with a pass-rush specialist who has perennially predicted that he will break out. Unfortunately, this is not one of those things about which you’re bound to be right simply by the odds.
Just having some semblance of stability and identity at the position, however, is at least a start, and a help. Ostensibly, we finally know who the outside linebackers are going to be. Next up is finding out how they are going to be.
Both are young players. Watt is only entering his second season. Dupree is heading into year four, but he has already missed more than half a season’s worth of playing opportunity. He has 24 starts to date, less than two full years.
If they can grow together, that would go a long way toward helping to secure the defense’s future—assuming they would be able to find a way to pay them.