The Pittsburgh Steelers first began looking for ways to find their next generation of outside linebackers, while the present generation was always fading, in 2013 when they used their first-round draft pick on Jarvis Jones. They would follow it up with another first-round selection at the position every other year for two more cycles.
2015 brought in Bud Dupree. 2017 saw them add T.J. Watt, the first outside linebacker to make the Pro Bowl for them since LaMarr Woodley. While he may not be putting up Pro Bowl numbers, Dupree is at least doing a little more than holding his own in his fifth season, playing for a new contract in the open market in 2020.
And his teammates, consistently, have had his back. Perhaps nobody has been in his corner as much as has Watt, who once again took the opportunity to compliment Dupree following his big game, in which he had two sacks, a forced fumble and recovery, and a critical third-down stop.
“Bud is balling”, Brooke Pryor of ESPN quotes him as saying. “I said it last week, and I see the way that he approaches watching film and practice, and you just have a feeling when you’re playing. It seems like every week for me and Bud and this whole defense, we all just have feelings that it’s going to be a great game”.
His two sacks moved him up to six on the season, which brings him to a tie for his career-high in sack total for a single season. And he still has half a season to play, so he has a legitimate shot of blowing his previous best out the window and even hitting double digits, something that had become quite rare in Pittsburgh during the 2010s.
Watt, literally, said the same thing of Dupree last week, that he is “balling”. I wrote about it here, only his comments at that time seemed to take a more defensive tone. “He doesn’t get enough credit for his all-around game”, he said. “I think a lot of people just look at pass-rush stuff. The guy is defending the run at a high level. He’s also rushing the passer at a high level. He’s due for a big breakout game because we’re getting pressure”.
People are willing to listen more this week after Dupree beat Anthony Castonzo for two sacks against the Indianapolis Colts last week. They went into Sunday’s game having given up among the fewest sacks in the NFL.
The Steelers, as a team, dropped their pair of quarterbacks for five sacks, with Dupree and Watt combining for three and a half. Watt split one with Mark Barron, and cornerback Mike Hilton also got his first of the season—the first for any defensive back this year on the team.
So yes, Dupree is balling, and if they have any aspirations of getting ahead this season, they’ll need him to continue to do so, because wherever they’re headed, it’s the defense that’s going to be taking them there. That much is obvious.