Issues are going as typical because the injured Dupree is changed in Information, Sports activities, Jobs
PITTSBURGH – Bud Dupree stood on the border during a break in play on Wednesday against Baltimore, doing what the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker almost always does when there is a break in action.
Minutes later, the relentlessly optimistic Dupree hobbled to the sidelines, his right knee torn and his season over. The immediate impact on the NFL’s last undefeated team was felt. Perhaps no player felt it more than his external linebacker TJ Watt. The two have spent the past three seasons developing into one of the NFL’s best edge-rushing duos on the field and making close friends.
“It’s just so busy when you hear something like that,” said Watt on Saturday. “Holy cow, his season could possibly be over, (he) in a contract year, (he’s) having such a phenomenal year and is such a key player in what we do and who we are as defense.”
And now he’s gone, the second member of the Pittsburgh linebacking group whose season was ruined by a knee injury. Second year center-back Devin Bush lost Cleveland late in October. Instead of panicking, however, the Steelers held out, handing the majority of the snaps over to Robert Spillane, who made the team an ace of the Special Team but held his own while replacing a selection from the first round.
Pittsburgh trainer Mike Tomlin expects the same from rookie Alex Highsmith. The Steelers grabbed him in the third round of the draft, viewing him as a potential long-term replacement for Dupree, who is playing under a year-long franchise tender this season and is expected to go public next spring.
Highsmith arrived as a small project after having played on the defensive for most of his career with Charlotte at the end of the line. Still, he’s seen his playing time increase in the weeks leading up to Dupree’s injury, including an interception against reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson that sparked a comeback win over the Ravens on Nov. 1.
“He understands. When he doesn’t understand, he asks very intelligent questions,” said Keith Butler. “He has a good sense of football and does what we ask of him. You only have to tell him once and he’ll get it. “
The Steelers (11-0) need Highsmith, Ola Adeniyi and Jayrone Elliott to make it if they want to keep the top spot in the AFC. Pittsburgh is well on its way to sacking the NFL for the fourth straight year and is just one game away from bagging the league record for most straight games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the quarterback in 69 straight games between 1999 and 2003.
Pittsburgh’s current streak happens to coincide with Dupree’s transition from early-career first-round disappointment to a physical presence where teams pay to focus too much on Watts.
Now the Steelers expect Highsmith to do the same.
“These guys work behind the scenes every day, preparing very diligently for these opportunities, not just to know what to do but also to prepare for conditioning when we ring,” said Tomlin. “We’re ringing Alex Highsmith’s doorbell now, so it will be exciting to see how he reacts to that. It will also be exciting to watch its growth, because growth is associated with experience. No doubt he will gain a lot from this in the weeks to come. “
Starting with Washington on Monday (5 p.m., FOX). Washington has won two games in a row to get back into the mix at NFC East. Washington has given up the third most sacks in the league and is now faced with the league’s third-placed defense, despite missing some notable pieces.
Tomlin rejected the idea that Dupree’s absence would make Watt’s work difficult. Watt makes a compelling argument for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Watt’s 11 sacks lead the league and he’s become a weekly annoyance on the opposing backcourt.
“I don’t think TJ Watt will get any support from anyone regarding his playing quality,” said Tomlin. “TJ does his pieces. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem at all. People like TJ don’t depend on anyone. “
Watt doesn’t expect Highsmith to become a game wrecker like Dupree. Highsmith isn’t that big. He’s not that fast. He’s not that experienced. It’s still in the works, and Watt believes it can still make a difference when the Steelers run to their first playoff appearance since 2017.
“Alex prepared like he’s been the starter all along,” said Watt. “I have every confidence in the guys in this locker room that we will be fine.”
NOTES: The Steelers removed DE Stephon Tuitt from the reserve / COVID-19 list on Saturday and paved the way for him to return against Washington on Monday. … QB Ben Roethlisberger (knee) and K Chris Boswell (hip) did not train on Saturday and are questionable. DB Steven Nelson (knee) is doubtful.
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