Rookie safety Terrell Edmunds preps for Steelers debut
Bud Dupree wasn’t being contradictory as much as he was being philosophical Thursday when he went all Yogi Berra while reflecting on his still-young career.
“Everything is going by fast,” Dupree said before Pittsburgh Steelers practice. “The seasons are long, but it just seems so short.”
Still just 25, Dupree will embark on his fourth NFL season beginning Sunday in Cleveland. Three years ago, Dupree played in his first game, a Thursday night kickoff at the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
A raw but supremely athletic 6-foot-4 edge rusher then, Dupree on his sixth NFL snap was credited with a sack of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.
“It was fun,” Dupree said. “It feels like it was just yesterday.”
Sunday, it will be Terrell Edmunds who makes his eagerly anticipated debut. Edmunds in April became the sixth consecutive Steelers first-round pick who plays defense.
With Jarvis Jones (2013) long gone and Ryan Shazier (2014) out for the season because of his spinal injury, that leaves four recent first-round picks playing a significant role in the 2018 Steelers defense: Dupree (2015), cornerback Artie Burns (2016) and outside linebacker T.J Watt (2017).
Edmunds’ role Sunday isn’t known yet.
“I’ll let the head coach tell you” if Edmunds will start, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Thursday.
But clues are accumulating that he could play a featured role. Edmunds got first-team reps at strong safety for the majority of camp, in part because of a lingering groin injury suffered by veteran Morgan Burnett.
Edmunds has played strong safety in the base and nickel packages, as well as serving in a role closer to the line of scrimmage in the dime (six defensive backs) and “dollar” (seven defensive backs) during training camp.
“I don’t know where they are gonna put me,” Edmunds said. “Right now, we’ve just been switching every day in and out, just to get everybody some reps because everybody’s got to be ready because whoever is in the game has to be ready. That’s what we have been doing.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said of his precise role.
Odds are it will fall somewhere in the middle of the debuts of his fellow Steelers first-round picks on defense.
There’s been the sublime: Watt had two sacks and interception, the third player in NFL history to do that in his debut
There’s been the good: Dupree with his sack of Brady, Shazier (a team-high five solo tackles), Jones (two tackles for loss)
There’s been the OK: Burns was used just in the dime package (playing just eight defensive snaps) in 2016’s Week 1 Monday night game.
“There’s a lot of emotions that go into it,” Burns said of making an NFL regular-season debut. “And I feel like (Edmunds) is going to do real good. He’s been training really good and looking good.”
Edmunds flashed his athleticism during a preseason in which he had 11 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception over a four-game schedule in which he appeared more comfortable as it progressed.
“Terrell learns things very fast,” Dupree said, “so I think he’ll go out and have a good game.”
If Edmunds does start Sunday, it will mean a rookie will start for the Steelers on defense for the fourth time over the past five years (counting 2016 second-round pick Sean Davis).
It had happened just twice over the previous 40 years.
Butler attributed that shift in philosophy to the college game adapting to better prepare players and to the Steelers veterans helping rookies assimilate.
“We’ve come along where we’ve got good leadership on our defense guys who have been around here for a while,” Butler said. “They expect things from the rookies and try to hold them to a standard too.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.