In less than a week, training camp will officially open for all players on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster. 2015 marks the 50th year that the team has held the summer event at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and holds promise for an exciting preseason before the Steelers’ face off against the New England Patriots to begin the start of the regular season.
While there are many players of intrigue that will be in attendance, all eyes will be on 2015 first round draft pick Alvin “Bud” Dupree as he progresses further into his rookie campaign. With a linebacker corps that is suspect to age, injury, and lack of depth, taking Dupree at 22nd overall was the best decision the Steelers could have made being outside the top ten teams making selections.
OTAs (organized team activities) and mandatory minicamps in the months of May and June have brought him some knowledge of the playbook and have helped him build a rapport with his teammates, but July’s training camps are what will begin to help shape what kind of production we see out of Dupree when it is time for him to take the field for the first time at a professional level.
It is no secret that Steeler Nation is expecting much from Dupree in his rookie season. The team recorded 33 sacks last season. Think back to Pittsburgh’s 2008 season when James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley registered 27.5 sacks just between the two of them. The Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl title that season in large part due to their fearsome linebacker duo.
Even though Harrison is still on the roster, it has been seven years since that historical season. The spirit may be willing, but the body eventuall breaks down over time. He enjoyed a nice return to football after injuries forced the Steelers to call upon their former Defensive Player of the Year last season, where he had 5.5 sacks, but this year he will take on more of a mentor role.
Dupree will have all he needs at a coaching and mentor level when it comes to excelling in his first year as a Steeler, but it will be up to him prove that he has what it takes to make a long-lasting impression on his team and fans when it is finally time to take the field. The defense is becoming younger as the seasons progress, and will need some of those young players to step up and make their presence felt.
It would be absurd to think he will be the next Jason Gildon in his first year, but Dupree will be expected to help energize a defense that has the potential to return to the dominating unit it has been in the past. There will always be high expectations of first round draft picks, but those expectations should be tempered for the moment.
A plethora of hype surrounded 2014 first round selection Ryan Shazier this time last season. After the loss of Larry Foote, the Steelers felt a first round talent was the way to go in terms of finding him a successor. Shazier held plenty of promising entering the preseason, even intercepting a pass in his preseason debut, but his rookie campaign would be disappointing to many after injuries forced him to the sidelines for much of it.
Avoiding injuries and living up to the monkier of one of the best pass rushers in this year’s draft will be Dupree’s biggest challenges going forward. While the Steelers’ rookies in the past two seasons have not been bad choices (despite what many believe), they havent exactly been the important pieces of the team that their teammates drafted under them have in their rookie seasons. Vince Williams in 2013 and Stephon Tuitt in 2014 are prime examples.
As we enter training camp next week and get a glimpse of the Steelers’ future at linebacker on the field during the preseason, it will be seen if Dupree is what we have come to expect over the past few months. He has shown that he has the ability to be a fearsome opponent for quarterbacks during his collegiate career and that should transition well in his time with the Black and Gold.
Can we entrust Bud Dupree with the task of resurrecting the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker position and restoring it to its former glory? Time will tell if the young man becomes the next dangerous player on defense the team has been known to have decade after decade, but an early bet says we are putting our trust in the right hands.