What a much improved Bud Dupree would mean for the Pittsburgh Steelers
Smith is a well-respected pass rushing coach. Dupree is an improving pass rusher. Dupree is also one of Smith’s clients.
But even if Smith’s prediction doesn’t prove to be exactly true, Dupree playing a lot better can reshape the Steelers’ defense in front of and behind him.
While the team ponders edge rushers to discernibly be longterm replacements for James Harrison, Dupree appears to be the future of the left outside linebacker spot in Pittsburgh.
- The Steelers got yet another look at Tim Williams on Tuesday
He averaged more than three solo tackles per game and more than a sack every other game. The problem was there were only nine games Dupree really played in and before he began to contribute regularly in Week 12, Pittsburgh struggled to generate much of a pass rush.
Yet the team finished ninth in the league in sacks with 38. If Dupree gets a full season in playing even just a little better than he did last year, the Steelers’ defense is fundamentally different threat.
The temptation for Steelers fans – and to a lesser extent, coaches – has been to imagine Dupree and Stephon Tuitt attacking the left side of offensive lines together. Tuitt regularly draws and handles double teams. Dupree is a bad matchup for a tight end.
Both are faster than average for their positions. But we already knew this.
The real potential lies in them getting a run of games together at full strength and forcing opponents to pick their proverbial poison between the two. Dupree only played four games with Tuitt last season before the defensive end went down for two games with a knee sprain.
Bud Dupree returns to Pittsburgh Steelers practice
But if they find an early season rhythm and keep it, then the Steelers will go into games knowing they’ll force opponents’ hands with Tuitt – at least – pursuing plays to the weak side or Dupree rounding the corner to a quarterback.
And this is without sending extra rushers.
Safety in the number four
As in the number of players the Steelers send after the quarterback.
In 2015, Keith Butler’s first year as defensive coordinator, Pittsburgh tried to protect a weak secondary with a steady stream of blitzes. It largely worked, too, as the Steelers piled up 48 sacks, gave up a lot of passing yards, but partly made up for it with timely turnovers.
An improved secondary in 2016 initially left the Steelers in between extremes and succeeding at neither.
Dupree’s return from groin surgery and Pittsburgh eventually giving up on an outside linebacker rotation gave the Steelers the best of either world that they’ve had since their defense was historically great. The secondary remains the biggest variable in Pittsburgh’s defense, but the sub-unit becomes easier to plan for if Dupree keeps progressing.
It means the Steelers don’t have to expose corners. They can play a normal amount defensive backs – four for base, five for nickel – without giving up on getting to the quarterback. And if they want to bring a fifth pass rusher, it can be as a bonus to the secondary — not a bandaid.
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