LATROBE -- The Pittsburgh Steelers no doubt are hoping to improve their secondary play in this training camp, but the one person who may offer the biggest hand doesn't even play in that position group
No, he's a pass-rusher who rarely beat blocks as a rookie.
So let's re-introduce Steelers Nation to the team's 2015 first-round draft pick, Bud Dupree, because if the Steelers are going to be successful in the secondary, on defense, and specifically in rushing the passer this season, Dupree must make big strides in his second NFL campaign.
If his comments upon reporting to St. Vincent College on Thursday are any indication, Dupree is more than ready for the challenge.
“Last year was important in getting the experience and seeing how things actually work, not just how I think they do,” said Dupree. “Coming into this year, I feel like I’m way ahead of where I was last year. Knowing how to go, conditioning-wise, playbook-wise. I just feel like I’m way ahead of the curve from where I was last year.”
Much of the reason for Dupree’s confidence is his playing weight, which has dropped from the 269 he weighed at his NFL Combine to 254. Dupree believes being heavier might have been one reason why he wore down as the season, even the games, went on last year.
“I’m smaller, I’m about 20 pounds smaller, so that'll help me out,” he said. “I just wanted to be lighter for the conditioning aspect, so I can play a lot more (snaps). Being heavier, I felt like I just got tired more, so I wanted to shed some pounds.”
While cutting weight was a major offseason objective for Dupree, the outside linebacker also spent time training with former NFL defensive end and pass-rush guru Chuck Smith to develop his all-around abilities off the edge.
If you’ve heard Smith’s name before, it’s probably because Stephon Tuitt widely credits the pass-rush specialist for helping him achieve a breakout 2015 thanks to their offseason training.
“I worked with Chuck Smith, got my hands right with him,” Dupree said. “We did a lot of boxing stuff, and I just feel like I’m way ahead of where I was last year both mentally and physically, and I already see it showing. Last year I was just relying on my speed most of the time. So now I actually have moves that I can think about before the play happens and whether to use them instead of just relying on natural athleticism. I just feel like it is going to be a great year, not only for just me, but also for my whole defense.”
Dupree was known as an athletic phenom in college who achieved his production as a pure speed rusher by attacking the edge with reckless abandon. In the NFL however, things like hand usage, mental awareness and inside counter moves are essential to having a complete pass-rushing repertoire, aspects of the game that Dupree is learning to process while still utilizing that explosive first step.
“My number one thing is speed, so I just need to make sure (opponents) know that is my threat,” Dupree explained. “With that being said, having counter moves will come once you start beating guys with speed and your number one move. So I’ve got to keep working on those things and (success) will happen.”