While the Pittsburgh Steelers have (seemingly) been able to avoid any long-term injuries to significant contributors during training camp, there have definitely been a lot of players in key roles standing on the sidelines watching practice because of or minor nicks and bruises or other ailments.
The team has watched its two starting outside linebackers sit on the shelf for most of training camp, for example, which is a pretty big issue given that both of them are still pretty young. That even applies to Bud Dupree even though he is heading into his fourth season. His heavily truncated second year limits his actual experience.
The former first-round pick has been sidelined since the Friday Night Lights practice from a couple of weeks ago after suffering a concussion, spending his time in the protocol until he was just recently cleared and was able to resume work for the team’s final practice.
Dupree is expected to make his preseason debut tonight, and as would be expected, he’s going to have a lot of eyes on him as he embarks upon a critical season. He is essentially in a contract year after the Steelers elected to pick up his costly fifth-year option, which will become fully guaranteed at the start of the new league year in 2019.
So the team has to figure out between now and then whether or not he’s worth that sort of money, or worth making a long-term investment in, and if not they’re going to have to part ways. Up until this point in his career, he has only flashed potential and hasn’t put together a complete season, even though he played 15 games last year.
The Steelers are trying to do anything they can to help him succeed, which includes having moved him from the left side to the right side, believing that he might have more success working on that side of the defense. Particularly as a pass-rusher, but more broadly, too, as the team intends to use the left-side linebacker more versatilely.
This year, Dupree has something a little more to play for. He just days ago had a child, and we have seen before what sort of motivation that can be for a player, knowing that he is now striving to make a living for something much more than himself.
2018 is something of a make-or-break season for him and his future with the Steelers, during which he either becomes a cornerstone of their defensive future or an expendable commodity. Regardless of which path he’s ultimately led down, the final leg of the journey begins tonight.