Bud Dupree and the way the Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff have talked about him over the years has certainly been interesting. Largely predicated upon the fact that they selected him in the first round in 2015—and did so because they thought he could be very good—the team has continued to give him a lot of leeway with respect to the assumption that he remains a growing play, with an arrow pointed up.
Nobody has spoken to this more than defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who tends to be the most straight-shooting member of the coaching staff. He’s not going to say that a player is horrible, but he will be quick to point out his issues and what he needs to work on. And he did that recently when talking about Dupree.
“I think he’s got to be more aware in terms of situational football and what people are trying to do to him, reading what offensive tackles are doing”, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted him as saying earlier this week. “I think sometimes he knows, but he remembers it a half-second too late. The more he plays, that will turn to reacting exactly the way he’s supposed to react and how to react”.
Half a second too late is a good way to summarize much of Dupree’s career as a player who has come close to winning a lot of one-on-one matchups, come close to finishing a lot of plays, but has only had a moderate amount of success overall.
Now entering his fifth season and playing under the fifth-year option, he understands the implications of the contract year, as Butler and the entire organization emphasized to him (“Mike [Tomlin] told him, I told him, everyone told him”, the defensive coordinator said). He now must excel while growing at the same time, which he believes that he is, and can.
“My biggest thing is making the plays I have, finishing the plays”, the veteran outside linebacker told Dulac, among other reporters. “They see the progression I’m making. It’s on me now to make sure I finish that and make those big plays I need to make”.
Many outside observers might argue that his progression hasn’t been very apparent, or at least not on a path accelerated enough to warrant having committed nearly $10 million to him this season. And for the record, Dulac states that this is his preference over an extension.
His fifth-year option essentially functions as a one-year ‘prove it’ contract, wherein he will have the opportunity to state his case for a big payday in 2020 that his play to day has not yet earned nor justified. The Steelers would love for him to earn a massive contract in March if it means helping them hoist a sticky trophy in February.