October 5, 2015
by Chris Adamski
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Ironic that James Harrison, the man who caused a training camp stir with his decree against participation trophies, plays a position that the Steelers have decided to use an “everybody plays equally” mentality.
Until late Thursday night, that is, when the Steelers’ defensive coaches might have showed where their true feelings lie.
The Steelers starters at outside linebacker are Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones. But playing the first snap of the game doesn’t mean they’ll play the last. The duo of 37-year-old James Harrison and rookie Bud Dupree have been rotating series with the Moats-Jones pairing.
It hasn’t been a strict rotation, either. Many times, if a possession lasts too long, substitutions will be made. On occasion over the first four weeks, the rotation has been disrupted slightly. There have even been some plays in which, say, Harrison and Moats, or Dupree and Moats are on the field together.
That all said, when it came time for the highest-leverage, most-meaningful defensive possessions of the young season so far, the Steelers might have spoken with their actions.
Come overtime against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, despite the fact it was Jones’ “turn” to play, Dupree and Harrison were utilized on the Steelers’ first defensive series.
And then when it came time for the second defensive series, it was Dupree and Harrison again.
While Harrison is a former NFL defensive player of the year and his snap count is in part more of a function of his age than it is performance, the fact the Steelers coaches called upon Dupree is a tacit endorsement of how far the rookie has come so fast.
“I’m just trying to make them have faith in me each and every play,” Dupree said in the locker room Monday. “Just being on the field, having my presence out there (in overtime) felt good.”
Dupree noted that he was tasked with rushing the passer more in overtime than he did in regulation – both of which, again, highlight the coaches’ faith in him. For one, trusting Dupree in pass coverage (as he was often earlier during Thursday’s game) prove that he’s not viewed merely as a “one-trick pony” at his young age. There’s a school of thought from the outside that Dupree is just, as a rookie, an athletic but raw pure pass-rusher. The Steelers’ coaches are showing they already see him as much more.
“I always want to be a complete player, so being in coverage I can showcase my versatility,” Dupree said. “Anything things I can do for my team – it’s not all about me, it’s really the team. What do I need to do to win? I just wanna win.”
The coaches, of course, want to win too. So it was telling then that with the game so much on the line in overtime, they looked to Dupree.
Dupree had a sack on his first NFL play and another sack in his second NFL game. He’s has five tackles in the two games since.
Still, he’s showing progress. Obvious mental errors have been absent. According to Pro Football Focus, roughly a fifth of the 78 snaps he’s been on the field in which the opponent ran a passing play, Dupree has been asked to go into pass coverage. The rest, he’s been rushing the quarterback.
“I’m starting to think a little less now,” Dupree said, “but it’s still a learning curve. It’s not so much the plays; it’s more the concepts and formations and stuff like that. Different things teams do out of the same formations. They’re not running the same plays every week, like college. So that’s the biggest takeaway and biggest thing in terms of getting better each week.”