Bud Dupree in a rush to boost his sack totals for Steelers
When T.J. Watt reached 10 sacks this season last Sunday against Jacksonville, he not only became the first Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker to do so in eight years, he also set a benchmark for teammate Bud Dupree.
It was in that 2010 season the Steelers last had two outside linebackers reach double digits in sacks, with James Harrison collecting 10 1 ⁄ 2 and LaMarr Woodley 10.
Dupree would like to join Watt in the 10-sack club, but he has some catching up to do. Dupree has 4 1 ⁄ 2 sacks heading into the Steelers’ game Sunday at Denver and just five additional games to make up ground.
Dupree thinks with some better luck he would be competing with Watt for the team lead. He estimates he has missed “four or five sacks” that would have him on the doorstep of double figures.
“There were some holding calls when I had clean beats,” Dupree said. “I missed Cam (Newton). I missed (Blake) Bortles, and I missed (Patrick) Mahomes.”
Dupree has all of those near misses memorized, such as when Cleveland Browns tackle Desmond Harrison held him in the end zone in Week 8, resulting in a safety for the Steelers.
“I know everything,” Dupree said. “That’s just part of it. Some of them are pressures, but sacks are way better than pressures.”
Although Dupree remains short of the career-high six sacks he had last season, his first as a full-time starter, he is fourth on the Steelers, who lead the NFL with 37 sacks. Since switching spots with Watt and manning the right side, where he can rush from the quarterback’s blind side, Dupree has shown some consistency that hasn’t gone unnoticed by defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
“I think he’s played better,” Butler said. “He’s learned from his mistakes. Sometimes as a player, you gloss over mistakes instead of learning from them. He’s learning from them, and he’s getting better.”
Watt has thrived playing on the left side of the defensive formation, and he thinks it is only a matter of time before Dupree starts to get more recognition for the pressure he is putting on quarterbacks.
“The more and more we play with each other and the more and more we get reps, we’ll get more comfortable,” Watt said. “We’re going to continue to get better and have a better feel for what we’re doing out there.”
Playing in the Steelers’ 3-4 defensive scheme, Watt and Dupree are asked to stop the run and defend in pass coverage. With those added responsibilities, it frees players such as defensive tackle Cameron Heyward or inside linebacker Vince Williams to chase down quarterbacks.
“Bud has been more sound, and so has T.J.,” Heyward said. “They understand a lot more and understand situations. You can’t play just the pass or just the run. There has to be a mixture of both. It’s understanding the situations you are in, and I think they’ve handled that well so far.”
Dupree, in his fourth season, has taken longer to make a splash. Watt had seven sacks as a rookie and already owns the Steelers’ record for sacks by a player in his first two NFL seasons.
“For T.J to start off the way he did and have such success at an early age in his career, he got a jump on a lot of guys,” Heyward said. “Only time will tell, but the sky is the limit with him.”
As a pass-rushing tandem from the outside linebacker spots, Watt and Dupree will see the gold standard Sunday at Mile High Stadium. The Broncos’ duo of perennial All-Pro Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb have combined for 19 sacks, the most by a tandem this season. Miller has 10 and Bradley nine, with each player taking a five-game sack streak into Sunday’s game.
Watt and Heyward (5 1/2 sacks) are fifth on the sacks tandem list.
“We’re trying to be that next tandem,” Dupree said. “We’re trying to mold a lot of stuff together. I know if I made all of my sacks this year, we’d be at 10 and nine right now, too. We’re definitely competing to be in the top race with (Miller) and Chubb. At the end of the season, we want to be talked about just like them as well.”
Chubb, drafted fifth overall out of N.C. State, was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in October when he had 16 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble in five games. Miller, in his eighth season, was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week last week after he became the fifth-fastest player to reach 100 career sacks, counting postseason. He also had a 41-yard interception return that set up a touchdown in the Broncos’ 23-22 win last weekend against San Diego.
“I emulate his first step a lot,” Dupree said about Miller. “I take pride in my speed and get-out, so I watch him and the stuff he does and how he attacks the linemen and try to put it into my game as well.”
Trailing the Miller-Chubb tandem in sacks are Kansas City’s Dee Ford and Chris Jones and the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. They each have a combined 18 sacks.
Watt has older brother J.J., who also has 10 sacks this season, as his mentor. J.J. Watt also is part of a pretty fair pass-rushing duo in Houston, as he and Jadeveon Clowney have combined for 16 1/2 sacks.
Watt and Dupree, however, are the highest-ranking outside linebacker duo on the list after Miller and Chubb.
“We just want to be respected,” Watt said. “That obviously comes with production, and being one of the best tandems would be awesome. I think we are definitely trending that way. We just have to continue to get better and keep growing and be consistent.”
Watt has done his part. Now it’s up to Dupree to get going.
“I feel like my best is yet to come,” Dupree said. “When I’m on my game and my level, I feel it’s going to be a different ballgame, and it’s going to be crazy. But I’m still grinding.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.