Although his playing time was relatively limited, it’s probably fair to say that over the course of the last two games, Pittsburgh Steelers fifth-year outside linebacker Bud Dupree has put together the strongest body of work in the preseason that he has at this point in his career, which included a two-sacks performance and another positive pass-rushing display that appears to show much-needed progress in certain areas.
His opportunity to develop those long-awaited pass-rushing assets was cut short with a thumb injury on Sunday, and as should go without saying, he is obviously not going to play tomorrow night’s preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers. But he said that he expects to be ready for the New England Patriots, which is the first game that actually matters for a player who has been a full-time starter since 2016.
“All good”, he told Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, who got the opportunity to talk to him recently for his Breakfast With Benz podcast. “It’ll be good, I just put it in a cast”, he said, adding that “it’s just sprained”.
Saying that the cast is a precautionary measure to give it the best opportunity to heal, he said that “going into Week One means everything”. The Steelers open the regular season in Foxboro on September 8, or about a week and a half from now.
This is the reason that almost all starters do not participate in the final week of the preseason, and often even have limited participation during the final week of practice, since the preseason finale is focused upon the back half of the roster among players looking to make the team.
The most important thing for players like Dupree and any other established starter right now is to “get over the bumps and bruises” that are a natural part of the process of preparing for the season, especially through training camp, which is the most physical portion of practice of the entire offseason calendar.
The 2015 first-round pick is currently playing under his fifth-year option and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020. By then, he is hoping to have improved significantly upon his 20-sack total for his career, registering six and five and a half over the past two years.
He has shown some promising signs in his work through two preseason games, indicating a better speed-to-power transition that is giving him more success driving tackles into the backfield, for example. It’s rare, but certainly not impossible, for players at his position to make a meaningful stride this late in their career.
If he does make that sort of meaningful stride, however, there’s no doubt that he will price himself out of Pittsburgh, especially with T.J. Watt due for a long-term extension in 2021. Watt has recorded as many sacks in two seasons, as Dupree in four, and already has a trip to the Pro Bowl.