Bud Dupree didn’t have to look very far to find a role model when it came to NFL fitness. His locker stall is three down from James Harrison’s, where the “ageless” linebacker — as Ben Roethlisberger called him last week — tweets videos of his weight room workouts. Dupree witnesses those legendary sessions in person, and they’ve been helpful in his transition to professional football.
Like most college players entering the NFL, Dupree really had no idea of what it took to be in peak physical condition. The former University of Kentucky star found that out the hard way when his rookie season that started with so much promise ended with a whimper.
Dupree had four sacks in his first eight games last season, but posted none in the final eight or two playoff games. The proverbial rookie wall hit him like a ton of bricks.
“I just was not being used to playing that many games,” said Dupree, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2015. “It took a toll on my body. Now I’m more prepared for that. I’ve been training longer, doing different things that I didn’t have the time to do coming from college. Just a lot of little minor things you need to do, just looking at guys like James Harrison, guys who really take care of their body, following their lead.”
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Veteran linebacker Arthur Moats knows exactly what Dupree experienced. He was a rookie with the Buffalo Bills in 2010 when he went through the same thing.
“Absolutely, it’s a very distinct thing,” Moats said. “You feel it both physically and mentally. As everyone knows the NFL season is extremely long compared to the collegiate level. And then last year it was longer because we had the Hall of Fame Game on top of it and the playoffs. You could see it from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint at the end of the year. But we told him we all went through it. You just have to keep fighting through it. Your body will adjust to it in time.”
Moats started the first 11 games last season and Dupree started the final five and two playoff games. But like the rotation at right outside linebacker between Harrison and Jarvis Jones, the snaps were split equally throughout the season.
Joey Porter, the outside linebackers coach, believes Dupree is ready to take the next step in his development because his knowledge of the defense is much better than it was at this time a year ago when Dupree was fresh out of the University of Kentucky.
“Just like all my young guys, I want to see them get a little better than what they were a year ago,” Porter said. “He has had time to look at the stuff he did last year, and he can judge himself where he is now. I catch him out there helping the young guys and the new guys to the defense. He said, ‘I never thought I would be able to help somebody.’ But that shows you how far along he has come with this defense. He feels comfortable enough to give the other guys some knowledge of the game. That’s a beautiful thing that shows his growth.”
Rookie sixth-round pick Travis Feeney was one of the new players that sought out Dupree for advice.
“It’s crazy how much more I know,” Dupree said. “It amazed me. Travis and Tyriq [McCord], before he was hurt, were asking questions. I was helping them. It was a great eye opener for me. All the studying I did will pay off.
“It’s going to help me a lot. No more thinking, just going out to play. That’s how you’re going to be successful.”
Moats said he wouldn’t be surprised if Dupree’s sack total doubled from last season.
“I definitely feel like he can do it over a full season,” Moats said. “Not just Bud but all of the linebackers last year, we all left three or four sacks out there. I’m talking clean ones that we should have had. We’re always pushing him and they push me. We feel like this year we’re going to make it happen.”