For the first nine games of the 2016 season, Bud Dupree could do nothing but watch, be a spectator while his teammates took the field each week.
An abdominal injury had sidelined him, forcing the team to place him on the Reserve/Injured, Designated for Return List at the start of the season.
"It was very hard," said Dupree. "The expectations were high for me. I put a lot of work in during the offseason. It just came to a stop and it was like, 'What am I going to do now?' I prayed a lot. I kept grinding. I came back and God put me in the right position at the right time."
That right timing was in Week 10, where he was back but saw limited action. The next two weeks he played and was part of the rotation at outside linebacker. Then, against Buffalo, a fully healthy Dupree started along with William Gay at outside linebacker, and the outside linebacker rotation would come to an end for the season.
"It helped a lot not having the rotation," said Dupree, the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2015. "Coming in on a rotation you feel like you have to come in and make a play right away if you want to be on the field. You want the coaches to see you make a play. Without the rotation, you can come off the ball and know you are setting things up. You might not win every one, but if you are in there you can make plays."
Dupree made plays right off the bat after the rotation came to a close, recording six tackles and 2.5 sacks against the Bills. He added two more sacks the final two games of the season, finishing the season second in sacks with 4.5 despite being active for only seven games.
"Going forward, not rotating is a great asset for guys like me, guys who need to get in a rhythm," said Dupree. "I will come back this offseason, OTAs and minicamp and be ready to go and know I just have to work to get better."
Dupree's goal heading into the 2017 season, his third year in the league, is to get a full year as a starter. As a rookie he started five games, last year four. This year, the plan is different.
"I am going to go out and work hard and the sky is the limit for me," said Dupree. "I am going to keep getting better and better each year.
"This past year I had a lot more confidence, being able to take my time and focus on myself, on my skills and craft. It's going to be a great full year for me next season."