We learned early in OTAs that Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree were working on the side of the field opposite of where they had previously started. Dupree had been the leftside outside linebacker since he was drafted in 2015, and Watt played primarily on the right side a year ago as a rookie.
It sounds as though it’s intended for the switch to be permanent, but not static. While Watt and Dupree will start on the opposite side from their previous assignment, the Steelers plan to flip them more on either side over the course of a game, according to Ed Bouchette.
And according to at least one player who has to block them, the change has already been positive. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert, the most veteran at the position on the roster, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “they look way more comfortable on the sides they are right now”, noting that the change has been consistent through the first two weeks of OTAs.
“T.J. is a skill guy, he’s been over me. It seemed like they’re both more comfortable on the side they are right now”, the veteran lineman went on. “Bud’s staying on the right and T.J. on the left”. Both linebackers played on the left during their college careers.
It’s interesting that Gilbert noted Dupree played on the left side initially to accommodate Jarvis Jones, the team’s first-round outside linebacker from the 2013 NFL Draft, who was more comfortable on the right side. “His role was to play the opposite of Jarvis Jones”, he said.
But he says the change is “working so far”, noting that “they look a lot more comfortable, the get-off, the turn of the hips, they’ve just been showing their athletic side”.
Dupree is entering a critical fourth season in which he must prove to the team that he is worth what they invested in him. The Steelers did decide to pick up his fifth-year option, but he will not see that option if he disappoints yet again. Injuries can only give you so many second chances.
As for Watt, he is coming off a successful rookie season that saw him record seven sacks, the second-most by a rookie in team history. He also intercepted a pass with several other passes defensed and forced a fumble. He even blocked a field goal.
And he is looking forward to going at both tackle this year. While he conceded that it’s “a little bit” more work for him, it adds a lot to the study requirements of the Steelers’ opponents, as both tackles will have to intimately know the traits and tendencies of multiple rushers.
“It feels great”, he said of his second offseason and of the change in philosophy to shift the outside linebackers to either side. “To be able to rush against two different guys in a game is awesome. And to just show my skills on both sides of the defense is going to be fun”.