Will 2018 finally be the breakout season for Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree, the team’s first-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft? The Steelers apparently think there’s a good chance of that happening as evidenced by them picking up Dupree’s fifth-year option several weeks ago. The Steelers front office, however, aren’t the only ones expecting Dupree to have his best season as a pro as his offseason pass-rush coach, former NFL defensive end Chuck Smith, who is also known as “The Sack Whisperer”, is also expecting the Kentucky product to finally live up to expectations in 2018 as well.
“They took his option and it wouldn’t surprise me if Bud it breaks out and gets 10 [sacks],” Smith said of Dupree during an interview this past week with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports on his podcast.
So why didn’t Dupree have a breakout season in 2017 after working with Smith a year ago? Prisco asked Smith a question very similar to that during the interview and he received a very straight-forward answer.
“Well, I think it’s one of those things where you just need more work and you know, different pass-rushers develop at different times,” Smith explained. “And I just think when you’re looking at a person like Bud, it comes down to this, it’s simple and I think Bud understand this, too, the guys who get sacks use signature moves. So, the other guy on the other side of him, J.J. Watt’s little brother [T.J. Watt], I watch Watt use moves.
“So, I think what Bud has to learn, it’s not really about physical, it’s the mental. The mental part of it is the one that affects pass-rushers. Because think about this, Pete, think how many rushers that are in the league that want to get 10 sacks. But you gotta develop signature moves and we can work on them all day, but if they’re not used by the player, we got to get back in the lab and keep working on them.”
Smith then used a baseball pitcher being coached as analogy for why Dupree, who registered a career-high six sacks last season, probably hasn’t yet developed into a top NFL pass-rusher under his tutelage.
“It’s just like a baseball player, a pitcher, the coach teaches him, he teaches him and teaches him and he says, ‘hey, man, throw it to the inside corner, throw it to the inside corner.’ But when the game gets on the line, what does he do? He throws it down the middle,” Smith said. “So, it’s that same kind of philosophy and I think what happens is, it turns around really fast.”
Smith, however, did caveat his baseball pitcher analogy by stating that defensive scheme also plays a role.
“I’ve seen players go for it, but Bud has all the potential and then also, scheme works in it, too,” Smith said. “So, I mean, you got to look at there’s a lot of things that happen like that.”
Smith’s comments about Dupree needing a signature pass-rushing move probably aren’t overly surprising to many of you reading this post and especially those of you who have watched him closely since he was drafted by the Steelers. On tape, Dupree appears to focus mainly on using his great athleticism to either beat tackles around the edge, or to the inside and mostly as part of choreographed and schemed twist or stunt. How many times have we seen Dupree win cleanly one-on-one and get a sack via a nice move such as a rip, cross-chop or bull-rush? The answer is, not many at all.
According to early reports out of the Steelers 2018 OTA practices, Dupree and fellow starting outside linebacker T.J. Watt are getting a lot of work on opposite sides of the defense this summer and it will be interesting to see if such a switch becomes permanent, or at the very least the majority, during the regular season. Most of Dupree’s football career dating back to college has included him primarily rushing from the left side of the defense.
A double-digit sack season from Dupree in 2018 would certainly be great to see and especially if several high-quality ones featuring him using a signature move or two are included within them. If he’s able to finally accomplish such a feat, he will certainly be worthy of the more than $9 million he’s now set to earn in 2019 as part of his fifth-year option being picked up and a long-term contract extension might be in his future a year from now as well.
If, however, Dupree doesn’t show a lot of improvement as a pass-rusher in 2018, the Steelers might ultimately decide to part ways with him prior to the start of the 2019 league year in March.
Smith, as you would probably expect with him being Dupree’s personal pass-rushing coach, believes that it’s still too early for people to give up on the Steelers former first-round draft pick.
“I’m excited about Bud and again, don’t close the door on him yet,” Smith cautioned Prisco. “The guy’s young, he’s still in great shape and I think Bud’s going to have a great year and that he’s going to have that breakout year.”
Make sure to listen to Smith talk more about other pass-rushers that he trains and what he tries to teach them in the full interview below that he had with Prisco.