The Pittsburgh Steelers' draft strategy is taking shape. They are traveling the country at various pro days, spending significant time with cornerback Mackensie Alexander in Clemson and cornerback William Jackson III in Houston. Mike Tomlin even tried icing FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo between 50-yard attempts. Pre-draft visits have begun, including Duke defensive back Jeremy Cash. Here's to guessing the Steelers visit West Virginia's pro day next week to check out safety Karl Joseph.
However, nothing the Steelers do in the next month will be as important as the development of outside linebacker Bud Dupree, the No. 22 overall pick in last year's draft who played valuable snaps in 2015 but couldn't avoid his collision with the rookie wall. Despite a few bright moments, Dupree went sackless in his final 10 games (he had four total sacks in 2015). "I feel I could have had way more sacks," Dupree said. "My expectations are high," Dupree told me late last season. "I felt I should have had more sacks, should have made more plays."
That feeling should carry Dupree through the offseason at a critical time for the Steelers' defense. Yes, Pittsburgh needs corners. They need a safety, too. But at least there are three defensive backs expected to be starting for the next few years -- William Gay, Mike Mitchell and Senquez Golson. At No. 25 overall, there's no guarantee the team will get one of the draft's top-three corners. Trading up isn't the Steelers' style.
At Dupree's outside linebacker spot, Jarvis Jones enters the final year of his rookie contract with hardly a guarantee the team will pick up his fifth-year option, James Harrison is 37 and unconfirmed to return for a 14th season. Arthur Moats is a valuable rotation rusher but not expected to start long term.
The Dupree experiment has to work, more so than any other piece on the defense. The consensus was Dupree "fell" to the Steelers at No. 22 overall. If Dupree's truly a top-15 talent, the next two years will set the stage for his transition from role player to anchor.
Dupree seems eager to accept the challenge, telling Steelers.com he's training for explosion this offseason and spending time in a hyperbaric chamber to enhance endurance.
"I try to use my get-off as an advantage and my speed and quickness," Dupree said. "I try to be the most explosive person on the field. I want to work on getting faster, stronger."
During the season, Dupree seemed bummed he couldn't train for live NFL action as much as he'd hoped, immersed in a world of 40-yard dashes and three-cone drills until May.
Now that Dupree has a full slate, let's see what he can do with Year 2. Last season, Dupree showed his combination of strength and speed but also had moments where he was flushed out of a play. Often, tackles would force him far wide, and suddenly he's nowhere near the action. Part of Dupree's training will likely include the refinement of counter moves and the one trait that makes many pass-rushers so great -- bend-ability off the edge.