Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree hopes he’s setting himself up for a breakout second season.
Dupree, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2015, admittedly hit a wall during his rookie year, but he’s working to change that this season. Not only does Dupree have a better understanding of the Steeler defense, he also dropped some weight and worked on techniques to improve his pass-rushing abilities.
“I just feel like I’m way ahead of the curve than I was last year,” the former University of Kentucky star said. “It’s just being more confident on the field.”
The Steelers used a rotation at outside linebacker last season between Dupree, 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler hasn’t said if the rotation will continue this season. Dupree is trying to make the decision easier.
“I’m going to work for it,” Dupree said. “I’m going to show them that I can be that guy on the field.”
Butler anticipates a significant jump from Dupree in his second season.
“I expect (Dupree) to be in the upper echelon of outside linebackers in the league,” Butler said. “He’s got work to do, but I think he can do that.”
Dupree has been nursing a sore groin during training camp, but he expects to be ready when the games count. Dupree focused on his conditioning in the offseason, shedding 20 pounds from his 6-foot-4 frame to weigh closer to 250 pounds now.
“That will help,” Dupree said. “I feel like I just wanted to be light for the conditioning aspect, so I can play a lot more plays. You can always keep getting in better shape from a conditioning aspect. Being heavy, I felt like I got tired more.”
He also worked on his pass-rushing moves. Dupree primarily relied on his speed at Kentucky where his 23.5 sacks rank second in school history. Dupree still believes speed is his best asset, but he spent time working on counter moves and improving his hands.
That’s why Dupree took up boxing while training in Atlanta during the offseason.
“Boxing is a great way to improve hand speed,” Dupree said. “You always worry about hand speed and power. It’s a big part of my game, so I needed that.”
Dupree started his rookie season strong with four sacks in his first eight games. He became the first NFL player since 2013 to record sacks in each of his first two NFL games and finished with the third-most by a Steelers’ rookie since LaMarr Woodley in 2007.
But Dupree struggled after earning his first career start in Week 11 at Seattle. Dupree, who played in all 16 games and started five, finished the final 10 games, including the playoffs, without a sack.
Dupree admitted that he felt like he hit a rookie wall. Butler saw it, too.
“A lot of times, if you’re a rookie, at the most you play 12 or 13 games,” Butler said. “You never play 18 games. We played 23 games last year because we played five preseason games, so yeah, he hit a wall. But most rookies will because that’s a lot of games for a young guy.”
Dupree expects to be better prepared his second time around.
“It was tough, just being in my first year,” Dupree said. “Now, I know what to expect.”