The Pittsburgh Steelers know that they have to get better on defense compared to last season—or at least how it ended—which is why you see a number of changes that have taken place at almost every level of the unit.
One of the more interesting tweaks that the team is trying out—and that reportedly was already in the research and development stages last season—has been to flip their starting outside linebackers to the sides opposite of where they played in 2017.
Bud Dupree has played almost exclusively off the left side of the defense since he was drafted in 2015. T.J. Watt spent the vast majority of his time on the right side during his rookie season a year ago, though he got a bit more time on the opposite side than did Dupree.
Now they’re on the other side, and as long as things go smoothly, it appears as though it’s going to stay that way. Even General Manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged the change while speaking to reporters yesterday during training camp.
In response to a question about where he felt the roster might be thin, the long-time general manager hit the pause button and stressed that there is still a lot of camp to play out before they can answer that question. He noted the number of changes that they’re trying to get a look at.
“A couple guys switched positions—T.J. moving to the left, Bud moving to the right”, he noted. He said that they will “see how they progress”.
So far as we can confirm through our eyes on Latrobe, Alex Kozora and Tim Rice, the Steelers have kept the two young linebackers strictly on their new sides during training camp. They also reportedly logged all, or virtually all of their playing time during the spring at those positions.
The pads have not come on yet, but Kozora has noted some positive signs from each working from their current stations. The change seems to be geared more toward putting Dupree in more opportune positions to exceed.
While they have not directly acknowledged this, it appears to be related to his bend around the edge, as he struggles to cut up the arc when quarterbacks flush up the pocket, so the hope is that coming from the blind side will buy him more time before being recognized.
It’s worth noting that both linebackers have seemingly embraced the move, with Watt saying that he feels he can be more effective with his hand usage on the left side. I’m personally fan of it in concept and am anxious to see the results that it produces.
Watt recorded seven sacks in 15 games as a rookie last year. Dupree posted a career-high six sacks in 15 games in his third season. The Steelers expect more from both of them this year—especially Dupree, who has a pricey fifth-year option coming his way in 2019.