Roster turnover is an inevitability in this league. But the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster has changed considerably since the end of last season. Many players who have been important to this franchise departed, either in retirement, limbo, or another uniform. As we wind down the time until training camp opens, it feels appropriate to acknowledge the old faces that we’ll no longer be seeing on the sidelines this year.
That includes Pro Bowlers and former high draft picks, as well as undrafted free agents of varying accomplishment. Four losses along the offensive line, multiple departures at linebacker and in the secondary, and other changes mixed in, will make for a rather different roster.
All the same, there are the steady presences that remain: the Ben Roethlisbergers, the T.J. Watts, the Cameron Heywards. Who will be the next long-term faces? Minkah Fitzpatrick will certainly be one. What about Cameron Sutton? Zach Banner? Kevin Dotson? Devin Bush? When will their names join this series?
OLB Bud Dupree
Bud Dupree was a first-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2015. It took him some time to develop, and he battled injuries along the way that slowed his progress, but by the end of his Steelers tenure, he clearly established himself as a proven starter and borderline Pro Bowler.
He was also an ideal complement to T.J. Watt on the other side, a veteran presence who helped the superstar do what he does and make his job easier. Now the role of wingman is in the hands of Alex Highsmith, a second-year third-round draft pick, who recorded two sacks during his rookie season.
After playing out the 2020 season under the franchise tag, Dupree was one of the fortunate players in a pandemic-bitten offseason to land the sort of big deal one would ordinarily expect. He signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Tennessee Titans, all while continuing to recover from a torn ACL.
That’s because he has been playing that well. In 2019, he recorded 11.5 sacks with 16 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. In 11 games last season before his injury, he had another eight sacks, eight tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles.
Dupree is the sort of 3-4 edge defender who possesses a complete, well-rounded skill set, which isn’t always easy to find. The Steelers believe that Highsmith has a stocked tool kit as well, but he doesn’t have the same freakish natural athletic traits that made his predecessor a first-round pick despite having a relatively unremarkable career at Kentucky.
And the thing is, the depth behind Highsmith is even more concerning. There is veteran journeyman Cassius Marsh, and then there is rookie sixth-round pick Quincy Roche. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi also followed Dupree to Tennessee, one further blow to the position. Highsmith might work out in the long run as a starter, but their depth is still in a bind, at least on paper.