Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about linebacker
“There were some things to build on,” said Tomlin. “There are some things that he could have done better. I’m excited about watching him put together a foundation for a sophomore campaign.”
It was the same type of evaluation that Dupree gave himself, although he was probably tougher on himself than his coach was.
That isn’t an uncommon evaluation for a rookie to give himself. One of the biggest adjustments they have to make is reacting to what is happening on the field rather than thinking about what is happening. It takes time, it takes patience. And for a first-round draft pick who wants to go out there and impress, it’s tough to be patient.
“Sometimes you think about just not messing up,” said Dupree. “Being a first rounder you think just don’t mess up. Then you forget about your main goal, which is having fun and playing football. When you think about not messing up, it’s easy to mess up because you are thinking about being perfect and not just playing football and having fun.”
Despite his take on not starting off fast, Dupree did that in some ways when he recorded sacks in his first two NFL games, becoming the first Steelers rookie to record a sack in back-to-back games since linebacker LaMarr Woodley did so in 2007, and the first NFL player to record at least one sack in each of his first two NFL games since 2013.
It was the beginning of what turned out to be a strong rookie campaign, one that earned him the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, presented by the Pro Football Writers of America to the team’s top rookie.
He credits the change to things slowing down in practice, and as that happened his game continued to grow, earning him the starting job at left outside linebacker when the team played Seattle on Nov. 29.
“I would say once practice started to slow down, the games started to slow down,” said Dupree. “Practice goes real fast. I started to get into a pace in practice where I was seeing things before they happened. It helped me out in the game. The more comfortable I got, the better I got.
“It’s not people being fast, it’s the speed of the game. It goes fast because people know what they are doing. Everybody is doing the right thing. If you are supposed to take a two inch step, they are taking a two inch step instead of three. Everything happens fast and everybody does the exact thing the coaches want you to do.”
Dupree finished the 2015 season with 26 tackles and four sacks, adding six tackles in the two postseason games. They are numbers he wants to build on, and is already focused on as the offseason is underway.
“I need to work on everything,” said Dupree. “Every aspect of football I need to improve, in the classroom and on the field. I want to evaluate myself and get better where I need to get better. I want to see the growth, see the results.”
Before he gets to work on next season he admits he needs a few weeks of down time, both mentally and physically. It’s a long year for a rookie, from preparing for the combine, to the draft, OTAs, training camp, preseason, regular season and postseason.
“When you come in as a rookie, it’s starting all over again,” said Dupree. “You have to earn your way. Now I can finally put an entire offseason together, just mental stuff for my position. Last year it was preparing for the combine and stuff like that. It will be a good offseason for me. I am going to work on improving my craft. I want to keep my body as fresh as possible and become better in the classroom.
“We need to then get back to work and focus on being champions next year.”