Steelers rookie Dupree says he 'left a few plays out there'
CANTON, Ohio — At times Sunday, rookie outside linebacker Bud Dupree was a menacing defender. It's what the Steelers envisioned when they selected him with the 22nd pick in the NFL Draft.
Mostly, he looked unpolished even as his confidence grew during Sunday's 14-3 setback to the Minnesota Vikings in the preseason opener.
“I don't think, personally, I played up to my standard and did some of the things I wanted to do,” Dupree said. “From a team standpoint, I think I did my assignments. But I would have preferred to make some plays.”
The 6-foot-4, 269-pound rookie had a few opportunities to showcase his pass-rushing skills. But the Vikings' offensive tackles consistently tied him up on the edge or strong-armed him wide of the pocket.
Dupree seemed to gain ground in defending the run. He made two tackles, but more importantly, he sealed the edge and redirected Minnesota's running backs toward the Steelers linebackers.
“It was a big deal, and it was everything I expected it to be,” Dupree said. “I got my first-game jitters out of the way. I feel like I can do better than I did, because I left a few plays out there.
“I didn't try to do too much. I stayed in my lanes, and as the game progressed I started to see how NFL teams play.”
Coach Mike Tomlin didn't appear nearly as concerned about Dupree's uneven debut performance.
“I thought he logged a lot of snaps, but I wasn't watching him with direct eyes,” Tomlin said. “I guess that speaks to the level of confidence that I have with him, at least, in knowing what to do. We'll evaluate him further in the film room.”
Dupree played nearly the entire game along with last year's No. 1 pick, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier.
There were signs that the learning curve in the NFL, if not steep, is considerable for Dupree. He couldn't rely solely on his physicality. Instead, as the game progressed, he appeared to gain confidence in his knowledge of the defense.
“I wouldn't say they (offensive linemen) were more physical, but they hold a lot more than what I was used to in college,” he said. “Once you get held, there's nothing you can do about it. It's not as easy to overpower somebody, but I was getting a feel for the flow and speed of the game.
“I gained momentum throughout the game and tried different moves, so a few more things came open. It was easier to attack, but it's little more difficult when you have to read the gaps because I couldn't get too greedy.”
Dupree has spent much of training camp working on his footwork, particularly lateral movement. He looked confident and comfortable when he was twice forced into pass coverage.
“It was just like practice in that the speed didn't change at all,” he said. “With me being a rookie, on that first drive, it was kind of different. Once I got over the hump, my teammates and I tried to do a little more. I was a little anxious, because I was happy to be on the field.”
Dupree said nothing really surprised him in first game, except how much energy he spent playing special teams. He was on kick coverage teams along with third-round pick, wide receiver Sammie Coates, and cornerback Doran Grant, a No. 4 pick.
“I never played special teams,” said Dupree, who had 23½ sacks in 38 starts at Kentucky. “I had to give it my all on both special teams and defense, but I know I'm in better shape.”
Shazier and linebacker Sean Spence are convinced Dupree looked good enough that he'll significantly impact the defense.
“I didn't get to watch Dupree that much, but he made a few plays,” Shazier said. “I feel like he's going to be making our linebacker corps better. We all are figuring it out and we're exciting about the challenge.”
“We played well as a group after we missed a couple of early tackles,” Spence said. “I thought Bud did some good things out there, and he'll get better.”