Steelers camp notebook: LBs Watt, Dupree swap sides

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt made seven sacks as a rookie.Photo Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler has outside linebackers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt switch sides.

LATROBE, Pa. — Defensive coordinator Keith Butler is hoping to create more sacks from his outside linebackers by having Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt switch sides.

Dupree, who has been a disappointment since being drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft, will move from the left side to the right side. Butler said Dupree missed several sacks last season because opposing quarterbacks were able to see him coming and were able to evade him. The move to the blind side, Butler theorizes, will give Dupree more opportunities for sacks because quarterbacks won’t be able to see him as easily.

Watt, who excelled as a rookie with seven sacks, played on the left side at Wisconsin so the move should not affect him very much. In fact, Butler said Watt’s sound technique and athleticism will make it harder for quarterbacks to get out of the pocket because he will be able to keep contain much better than Dupree. But in the end this move is all about trying to jump-start Dupree, who has just 14.5 career sacks. The Steelers picked up Dupree’s fifth-year option and believe he has the ability to fulfill his potential, but if the sack numbers don’t pick up this season, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they would try to negotiate a long-term contract with him.

–The Steelers would like to sign kicker Chris Boswell to a long-term contract before the start of the season. Boswell has been one of the most accurate kickers in the league since 2015, when he was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent. Boswell made 35 of 39 attempts last season, including all four of his tries over 50 yards.

The market for kickers has gone up in recent years, and the Steelers do have the option of placing the franchise tag on Boswell after the season if the two sides cannot come to terms before the regular season begins. (The Steelers don’t negotiate contracts once the season starts.) The Steelers previously used the franchise tag on a kicker in 2010 when Jeff Reed was tagged after he was unable to agree on a long-term deal.

–The Steelers are breaking in two new defensive coaches during camp. Karl Dunbar takes over as defensive line coach and Tom Bradley is the new defensive backs coach. Former defensive line coach John Mitchell moved into an administrative role with the team and former defensive backs coach Carnell Lake resigned to spend more time with his family.

Bradley spent a good portion of the spring instituting new language into the defensive playbook in hopes of streamlining communication among the coaches and players. Players said they hoped to have all the wrinkles ironed out by training camp, but the communication in the secondary is something that will be closely watched during camp and the preseason games.

Dunbar has college and NFL experience. He most recently was the defensive line coach at Alabama. He is coaching some talented players who have long resumes, but one area that could improve is the run defense. Making sure players keep gap integrity in the Steelers’ disciplined scheme will be one of his most important tasks.

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