Can a professional athlete really start to blossom so relatively late in his career as the fifth season for an outside linebacker? Bud Dupree of the Pittsburgh Steelers is trying to show that it is very much possible by accomplishing it in 2019, as he plays out his fifth-year option after originally being drafted 22nd-overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.
While he has been a starter for most of his career—when he hasn’t been sidelined with injuries, as in his second season—Dupree has yet to put up the sort of numbers that you would expect from a ‘franchise’ player at a marquee position. In 31 games played over the past two seasons, he has recorded 11 and a half sacks.
His numbers have gone even further under the microscope in comparison to his teammate, T.J. Watt, drafted in the first round in 2017. He recorded 13 sacks in 2018 and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Nobody has had that many sacks on the team since LaMarr Woodley in 2009.
Dupree is fast, athletic, and powerful, three attributes that tend to produce a quality edge rusher, but what he has lacked is the mental wherewithal to put all of his accumulated knowledge and experience into a coherent gameplan. That is what he plans to do this season.
“I’ve always been a fast guy my whole life, so people know I’ve got speed, people know I’ve got power”, he told the Associated Press. “It’s just the setups — you’ve got to have setups”. Even his coaches and teammates have admitted that they have actively worked with him in recent years to diversify his repertoire, expanding from a relatively ineffective speed rush with rare counters.
“Every rush is not going to be a sack. So it’s got to be a continuous setup”, Dupree said; “a first move sets up a second move, the second move set up the third move, and those first 10 rushes might set up the 11th rush for a sack. But you’ve got to make sure it’s all in your gameplan and all in your head”.
At least on paper, it sounds as though he is in the right space mentally, where he needs to be to grow his game and take that next step. He understands that rushing the passer is more than just physically beating one man on one snap.
In his preseason debut on Saturday, Dupree did record a pair of sacks against the Kansas City Chiefs. The first was produced on an inside stunt with defensive end Cameron Heyward playing to the outside. The second was already against backups but was a quality dip and rip move around Cameron Erving.
I’m sure one of us, if not myself, will put his pass-rushing snaps under a more evaluative lens between now and the next game. It goes without saying that his maturation into a consistent performer off the right side of the defense would be a tremendous boon for the Steelers in 2019, though anything beyond that is completely up in the air.