He wasn’t on the field much Sunday during Pittsburgh’s 33-20 win over Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium, but that didn’t keep Bud Dupree from wearing a postgame smile.
Not only is the former Kentucky star in the NFL, he’s part of a Steelers’ team that, especially after the win over the AFC North leaders, appears headed back to the playoffs with maybe even a run at the division title.
“I love it,” said Dupree afterward. “I love the competition. I love this nature of the game. I love this part of the game.”
What he doesn’t love is a nagging lower back injury that relegated him to the sideline after he assisted on one tackle early in Sunday’s game as the Steelers improved to 8-5.
“Bud should be fine,” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said. “Probably need management things in the early portions of next week.”
“I’ll be ready next week,” said Dupree of Pittsburgh’s game against Denver.
And how is the former UK star’s rookie season going?
“The season is going all right,” Dupree said. “The team is coming together at the right time. I’m just trying to get better each week and I think I’m doing that.”
Selected in the first round with the 22nd overall pick, Dupree hasn’t been able to unseat starting outside linebacker Arthur Moats, but the 6-foot-4 rookie, listed at 269 pounds, has figured prominently in the Pittsburgh rotation, averaging about 30 snaps per game.
His main contribution has been as a pass rush specialist. Dupree is tied for third on the Steelers with four sacks, one behind Cameron Heyward and James Harrison. Down the road, Pittsburgh sees him as a double-digit sack specialist.
It was thought Dupree might challenge Kendrell Bell’s franchise record for sacks by a rookie (nine), but Dupree has not recorded a sack since the Steelers’ first game with the Bengals on Nov. 1.
Then again, playing in a complicated scheme with a team full of veterans, Dupree wasn’t expected to become an immediate star. On a team where past rookies have had trouble breaking through, the former Wildcat has been making steady progress.
“I would say adjusting to plays in the heat of the moment has been the hardest thing for me,” Dupree said. “Plays move so fast, you’ve got to be able to adjust right away.”
It has helped that Dupree plays a position similar to the one he played at Kentucky, especially his last two years under Coach Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.
“It’s the exact same, the same thing I played at Kentucky,” Dupree said of being a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. “That’s why it helped me out and get me as far as I am, technique-wise and all.”
“We knew he was a sharp young man when we interviewed him at Kentucky,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently. “They do a lot of things we do at Kentucky so it was a little bit of an easier transition for him than most people. That’s the reason he was attractive to us.”
A Georgia native who played his college football in the SEC, Dupree says he likes Pittsburgh — “It’s a good city,” he said — and loves playing on a team with veterans who can show him the way.
“It’s great having guys to look up to, having guys to tell you what to do and how to keep competing and developing your game,” he said.
And for a player who missed out on a bowl game at Kentucky, Dupree is looking forward to the postseason.
“I just want to get better,” he said.