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Steelers notebook: Dupree returns to practice, eyes Week 11 return | TribLIVE.com
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Steelers notebook: Dupree returns to practice, eyes Week 11 return

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree stops Bengals running back Jeremy Hill during the second quarter of the AFC wild-card game Saturday, Jan. 9. 2016, in Cincinnati.
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Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree

It has been a frustrating second season for linebacker Bud Dupree, mostly because he has spent the first eight games on the reserve/injured list.

The team’s 2015 first-round draft pick began working his way back from a groin injury Wednesday. The Steelers tabbed him as the one player designated to return from injured reserve.

However, he doubts he will be ready to play Sunday when the Steelers face the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Field. He expects to return in Week 11 at Cleveland.

“I did a couple of things to get back into the groove,” said Dupree, who admits having some discomfort during practice. “Each day I’ll do more, but I’m excited to be back on the field.”

Dupree was added to injured reserve shortly before the season opener at Washington following groin surgery.

Dupree, who missed the entire preseason, will be given 21 days to show he is fit to play. At 4-4, the Steelers may feel a sense of urgency to inject some energy into a defense that has struggled to get off the field in two of the past three games, allowing Miami and New England to covert on third down more than 50 percent of the time.

With Dupree’s return, others on injured reserve — offensive lineman Ryan Harris (shin) and cornerback Senquez Golson (Lisfranc) — aren’t eligible to return to the active roster this season.

Defensively, the Steelers have struggled to apply a consistent pass rush. They have only 11 sacks, including two by linebacker James Harrison in Sunday’s loss to Baltimore.

Dupree had four sacks during his rookie season, so his presence could loosen things up for Harrison and Jarvis Jones. His presence also will add depth to a unit ranked 24th in total defense: 13th against the rush and 24th against the pass.

Tight end Ladarius Green, who spent the first half of the season on the PUP list with an ankle injury, is confident he can play Sunday.

“All I can do is keep working toward it and see how far I can go,” said Green, a free agent acquisition. “I feel pretty good and there haven’t been any setbacks.”

Bell expects challenge

So far, much of the focus has been on Dallas’ punishing ground game with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. Yet, the Dallas run defense has been among the best in the league.

Anchored by linebacker Sean Lee (Upper St. Clair/Penn State), the unit allows 86.9 yards per game, which is sixth best in the NFL. They are the only team not to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.

Running back Le’Veon Bell will be challenged to bounce back from a disappointing 32-yard effort against Baltimore. He will need to average more than 2.3 yards per carry to make Dallas respect a passing game that stalled until the final minutes against the Ravens, whose primary focus was to shut him down.

“(Baltimore) did a job, and they had a good game plan,” Bell said. “It’s a copycat league, so I’m pretty sure the things that worked for Baltimore, I’m sure the Cowboys will try to do the same things.”

Injury update

Center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey sat out practice with injures. Pouncey suffered a dislocated finger, and Heyward-Bey injured his foot in a 21-14 loss to Baltimore on Sunday.

Also, safety Jordan Dangerfield (groin) and running back DeAngelo Williams (knee) were sidelined. Wide receiver Sammie Coates was limited while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a full participant despite a sore knee.

Picking up slack

For the most part, the Steelers’ opponents have decided Antonio Brown isn’t going to beat them. As a consequence, offensive coordinator Todd Haley had been tasked with finding other viable options.

Roethlisberger said Wednesday the middle of the field can be exploited. But with the exception of a few catches by slot receiver Eli Rogers at Baltimore, the offense hasn’t made defenses pay.

Tight end David Johnson said it’s up to the tight ends to deliver. But they were targeted only seven times and totaled four catches for 38 yards.

“We’ve been saying it for a while, but other players have to make plays instead of relying solely on Antonio,” Johnson said. “A lot of times when (Brown) is double-teamed, everyone else has to step up.

“I feel like we’ve been trying to be balanced, but we have to do better on third down. We have a good offensive line and good backs, but we have to execute better more than anything.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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