The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t use their outside linebackers to the best of their abilities last season, but 2018 is a new year and Bud Dupree is ready to change the game.
The problem with rushing the quarterback last season wasn’t the lack of success, but the lack of rushers. Pittsburgh constantly had Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt drop into coverage on the outside. More of a compliment to their athleticism than a hit on their pass rushing. Nevertheless, their contribution off the edge lacked because of it.
2017 was the first time we saw a Bud Dupree we wanted to see. His six sacks was impressive for the amount of times he actually got to rush the quarterback. 2018 is bringing something new. Dupree is aiming for double-digit sacks and with the help of his teammates and the Steelers’ new secondary combinations, he’ll get there, or very close.
It all starts with Cameron Sutton. Last season, William Gay was the biggest hole in the secondary. Mike Hilton’s emergence helped in the slot, but with Gay on the inside, there was constantly space that needed attention from other players.
That’s where T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree came in. Keith Butler trusted them to drop back more than leaving Gay by himself. Rightfully so. Gay’s peak passed years ago and he was an aging corner who lost his speed and with it his ability to cover receivers in the slot.
So, Dupree and Watt dropped back to help. They did it well, even if they only combined for one interception on the year.
This year is different. Sutton adds security to the slot. Opposite of Hilton, the inside corners now have two names this defense can let fend for themselves. Meaning the outside linebackers can use their athleticism to find the quarterback.
For Dupree, the switch from left to right might not be the biggest change. What will be will be the amount of times he’s asked to rush instead of drop back. Give him more chances to find the quarterback, and he’ll use his speed to get to the backfield more than his career high, six times.
This is finally the year we can have faith in Dupree breaking out. His fifth-year option is signed, but nothing is guaranteed. If he doesn’t prove his worth off the edge this season, Pittsburgh could easily look in the draft for his replacement.
There is a lot riding on 2018 for Dupree. But with a new set of players behind him, he’ll have the ability to make this year his best. Expect a breakout season for the former first-round draft pick. One we’ve been looking forward to for years.