PITTSBURGH (AP) — Bud Dupree sat in the green room on Thursday night as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell kept ticking off names wondering when he’d finally hear his name called.
“It was horrible,” Dupree said with a laugh.
Until suddenly, it wasn’t. When the Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed the massive Kentucky outside linebacker with the 22nd overall pick, Dupree’s slide down the draft board landed him in a prime spot: on a perennial winner in dire need of some menace in its pass rush.
The Steelers certainly feel the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Dupree can provide it in bunches.
“He’s really a unique animal,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
The defending AFC North champions will need him to be as they try to restore some of the bit to a defense that has looked ordinary of late. Pittsburgh finished 18th in points and yards allowed last season and 26th in sacks. Dupree has the size to be effective against the run and the speed to beat tackles off the edge. He rolled up 23 1/2 sacks in his career with the Wildcats, including 7 1/2 last season.
“We looked into trading up as he kept coming up to us,” Colbert said. “We just waited it out. So often it happens, a lot of time you wait it out and there’ll be a good player there for you.”
Dupree’s size could help him acclimate better to the NFL than Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. Pittsburgh grabbed Jones with its top pick in 2013 but Jones has struggled to stay healthy, collecting just three sacks in two injury-marred years. The Steelers picked Shazier last spring but he was limited to seven games in 2014.
Durability wasn’t an issue for Dupree at Kentucky, where he was a three-year starter. His versatility made him even more attractive for a team that asks its outside linebackers to do more than just chase the quarterback.
“He can power rush, he can speed rush, he can put moves together,” Colbert said. “He can rush off two feet, or out of a three-point and he can cover. This is a gift for us to be able to get this guy at 22.”
The selection of the 22-year-old Dupree is the latest shift in a drastic youth movement on defense.
Safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor retired when it became apparent they were not a part of the team’s 2015 plans, and defensive end Brett Keisel was cut. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau did not have his contract renewed, with longtime heir apparent Keith Butler promoted from linebackers coach to replace the Hall of Famer.
Pittsburgh isn’t looking for a total overhaul from Butler but a return to the kind of frantic pass rush that provided the snarl for a defense that catapulted the franchise to two Super Bowl wins and an appearance in another in the last decade.
The Steelers managed just 33 sacks last season and 7 1/2 of them came from linebacker Jason Worilds, who retired in March just hours after hitting the free agent market. Another 5 1/2 came from James Harrison, who showed flashes when healthy after coming out of a brief 18-day retirement. Harrison, who turns 37 next week, signed a two-year deal last month to return in more of a specialist role.
In a division that includes Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and a 2015 schedule that includes New England, Denver and Indianapolis, Pittsburgh needs to generate more pressure up front to take some of the heat off a secondary that is very much in flux as it tries to find a new identity without Polamalu and Taylor.
Dupree wants to be part of the solution. He admits he got a little caught up in draft projections. The reality of draft night proved to be different. Considering where he ended up, he’s hardly complaining. Neither are the Steelers.
“He may be disappointed where he got picked, the spot he got picked,” Colbert said. “But I think he’ll be happy that he’s with us just as we’re happy to have him.”
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