When college football players show up to the NFL, they often times think they are more than prepared for the rigors of a 16-game schedule. What most find out, usually the hard way, is the "Rookie Wall" is very real. This wall is the point where these athletes are used to a 12 or 13 game season, and now they are playing 16 guaranteed games, not including a postseason appearance.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, it is rare they have a rookie who is expected to be a starter, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Nonetheless, Bud Dupree found himself in such a situation in 2015 when he was named the starting left outside linebacker around midway through the season, and that was when he hit the wall.
"We got to Week 13 or whatever it was, and I had never played that much football in my life," Dupree told Jason Mackey of DKPittsburghSports.com. "I had nothing left."
Dupree came out of the gates with a bang, registering 4 sacks in his first 4 games as a professional, but failed to tally another sack the remainder of the year. Was some of the drop off in production due to the "Rookie Wall"? Probably, Dupree is hoping to be more prepared in 2016, both physically and mentally. In terms of learning the defense, he is more than comfortable with Keith Butler's defense -- to the point where he is able to help younger players get acclimated.
"Everything feels better," Dupree said. "I can actually teach other people about things. I see things I didn't see last year. It's going to be a great year."
Dupree having a great year, and being able to continue his production throughout the regular season, would help the defense from top to bottom. A good pass rush helps an ailing secondary, and the Steelers getting more sacks from their outside linebackers will only improve a pass rush which ranked 3rd in the league last season with 48 sacks.
"I know I have to be more productive," Dupree said. "I have to get more sacks, be a better communicator on the field and a better leader off the field. Just improve all-around."
There is usually a big step up in production from a player's rookie season to their sophomore year in the NFL, and the Pittsburgh Steelers having Dupree more than ready both mentally and physically could be the first sign of things to come for No. 48 in the black and gold next season.