'Everybody is waiting': Bud Dupree is Steelers' $9.2M bet

PITTSBURGH -- From teammates to opposing players, trainers to coaches, Bud Dupree hears the same message.

It's time for the Pittsburgh Steelers' athletic pass-rusher to maximize his potential.

"Everybody is waiting on that year to come," Dupree said. "I know and I feel this year will be the year to show the person I am and just put everything together."

That means double-digit sacks, which would be timely for Dupree in a contract year.

Dupree's 20 sacks in four seasons won't quite satisfy his first-round pedigree. But the Steelers placed a $9.2 million fifth-year option on him anyway, because he is their best option opposite T.J. Watt, and there's always a chance he breaks out.

In fact, Dupree's explosiveness is obvious enough that fellow linebacker Watt, whose 13 sacks earned him a Pro Bowl nod last season, acknowledges that Dupree can do things he can't.

"Have you seen Bud’s legs? Bud’s legs are like tree trunks. He can accelerate so fast," Watt said. "His power is there, he can drop in coverage, he can cover so much ground in one or two steps. It's like Giannis [Antetokounmpo] in basketball."

Watt, who switched to the left side last season while Dupree got chances to work the quarterback's blind side, is a technician off the line of scrimmage and knows how to finish a play, which has been Dupree's struggle.

Dupree is known for garnering pressure but failing to complete the sack.

Still, Dupree gained confidence by drawing several holding calls on would-be sacks in crucial situations. The bottom line of 5.5 sacks was modest, but he was more disruptive.

"Last year, I had double-digit sacks in the books -- we can watch the film, put it up," Dupree said. "You can see I had double-digit sacks; it’s just that I didn’t finish plays. I got held on four plays, blatant holds. Those should have been strip sacks, missed sacks, people in my arms.

"This year, I have to capitalize on it. If they hold me, I have to rip through the hold and get the sack. If I grab the quarterback, I can’t miss him. I have to finish that. Then it will be a big year, not only for me, but for the team."

Watt was the only Steeler with more than eight sacks last year. If Dupree can provide balance on the other side, rushing lanes will open for defensive ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.

Dupree has emphasized elevating his "above-the-neck game," he said. After missed assignments and injuries during his first two years, Dupree improved in that area in 2018.

Watt is here to help him take it further.

“I think we both understand that we’re really good athletes and we both look up to each other,” Watt said. "And it’s good to have that kind of star power when I go up against Bud. Because Bud is a heck of an athlete."

Inaction might be the Steelers' best option with Dupree's contract. The $9.2 million figure sets a contractual floor the Steelers might not want to meet, given the production. The money is guaranteed, which gives Dupree leverage. But the team gave Tuitt a five-year, $60 million deal despite averaging less than four sacks per year from 2014 to 2016.

And if Dupree hits his double-digit-sack mark, retaining him could be tough.

Asked about the possibility of reaching a new deal before September, Dupree said, "You never know," but he didn't want to entertain it further. He is ready for his play to speak for him.

The Steelers won't mind that at all.

"I don’t want to talk about it because I want my biggest year to be this year," Dupree said. "I want not only for them to see that, but every other team in the league.”