When it comes to fixing the pass rush, Titans general manager Jon Robinson is pushing his chips into the middle of the table. The legal tampering period began on Monday and it took Robinson just a couple of hours for him to reveal a big part of his plan to improve the defense.
Robinson went all in pursuing Bud Dupree. Pass rushers flew off the market on Monday and Robinson refused to miss out. The Titans signed Dupree to a reported five-year deal worth up to $85 million, a yearly average of $16.5 million.
Dupree is a massive upgrade over what the Titans have had opposite Harold Landry last season. In 27 games over the past two seasons, Dupree’s totaled 19.5 sacks, 32 quarterback hits and 24 tackles for loss. The Titans totaled a sad 19 sacks as an entire team in 2020.
In order to set your expectations for what Dupree can bring to this defense, it’s important to know how he went from a raw pass rusher that was seen as a disappointment in his first few professional seasons to one of the most feared quarterback hunters in the league. How did Dupree transform and improve his arsenal of pass rush moves? What sort of attitude and mindset did it take for him to develop into the player that the Titans threw $85 million dollars at?
In search of answers to these questions and more, I had a long conversation with pass rushing coach Chuck “Dr. Rush” Smith. Coach Smith is one of the best pass rushing trainers in the business. He’s been working with Dupree since 2016. He’s worked with just about every pass rushing stud you can think of.
I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
JM: When did you first meet and start training Bud Dupree?
CS: I was going to train Bud Dupree had he declared for the 2014 NFL Draft. He decided to stay at Kentucky for another year and for whatever reason, I didn’t end up training him as he prepared for the 2015 draft. I was working with Randy Gregory and a few others at the time. Dupree decided to stay at Kentucky for one more year and we didn’t end up connecting again until 2016. That’s when we started training together.
Actually, if you go to his Twitter right now, he has a video pinned to his profile. That’s a clip of the very first day we began working together (laughs). March 26th, 2016. There it is right there on his Twitter profile.
That was our first day together.
JM: That’s crazy. You’ve been training him for several years now. What do you think is the driving factor behind his ascension the last two years? You’ve been with him since 2016, and he really took off in 2019 and 2020.
CS: I think there’s two reasons behind that. First and foremost, and this is from a football standpoint, he developed, bought in and learned how to use his signature pass rush moves. That led to the production that you’ve been seeing from him lately. He improved his pass rush arsenal. He started executing that on the field.
JM: What do you think his best pass rush move is? What are some of his other go-to moves and counter moves that he works well in your opinion?
CS: I would say that his best pass rush move is the cross-chop. He has a great spin move as well. One thing that we eventually added to his arsenal, and I think this really helped him improve as a pass rusher, we got him to start using more power moves. He wasn’t using much power early in his career.
Bud is a great athlete. When you’re young, you don’t always get the best advice. These young pass rushers, sometimes they lean too much on their athleticism. They can use their speed and run around.
With Dupree, we added the cross-chop, the spin move and we got him to start using more power moves. Those are the three best things in his arsenal. He also has a good speed rush.
That’s what took him to the next level.
JM: As somebody that’s watched his development, that makes a lot of sense to me. You can see it on tape. He was labeled as “unbelievably raw” by many when he came out of Kentucky. Can you give me some specific examples of how his play has developed since his early days?
CS: He’s a very smart pass rusher. He’s learned all of the things that you and I are discussing right now. One of the biggest things for him was the understanding of angles and how that angle impacts you as a pass rusher. Early in his career, there were times when he lined up really wide. We focused on tightening that down. It allowed him to reach the offensive tackle quicker and execute his moves quicker. The closer you are to the quarterback, the faster you can beat an offensive lineman and get to the QB.
We talked about that and tweaked his approach. The approach is all about the angle you take to reach an offensive lineman in a more efficient manner.
We also worked on his plan of attack. We worked on his ability to attack an offensive lineman as opposed to just reacting to them.
The ball comes out fast nowadays. The best pass rushers in the NFL don’t react, they attack. A lot of times, athletic players have a tendency to react because they’re working off their natural instincts.
As a pass rusher, instincts should come second. The moves come first. We worked really hard on that with him.
JM: That’s a terrific, in-depth breakdown. How many times have you seen him or worked with him since he tore his ACL back in December?
CS: I haven’t worked with him since he tore his ACL. He’s not doing any skill work yet. He’s getting healthy. It’s not a good time for him to be doing what we do over here. I’ve spoken to him, though. He’s well on track. He’s recovering well. He’ll be ready for the season.
He’s running right now. He’s doing all of the different things he should be doing. He’s right where he needs to be. As far as us training him, it’s just not the time for that. I’m not involved in this aspect. This is his time to spend with doctors and rehab specialists.
JM: That makes sense. You’ve touched on this a little, but how much do you value ability to bend versus something like power and working your hands? You talked about adding more power to Dupree’s game. My evaluation tells me he has great hands as well.
CS: In my system, we work on something called “the speed arc.” That’s one of the things we want to continue to work on with him when it comes to rushing the passer. It’s a drill we work where we ask you to bend beyond what you would see from a typical pass rusher. We worked really hard on that with him. I can’t tell you how many man-hours went into that.
It helped him. Like you said, he’s a natural athlete. When you’re a natural athlete, you don’t have to do those things. When he was at Kentucky, he was a good enough athlete where he could just outrun and outmove an offensive tackle.
He worked really hard on his bend. Kudos to him. He put in the work, man. I can’t think of any player that has worked as hard with me as Bud Dupree has. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had players that work just as hard as Dupree does, but I’ve never seen anbody outwork him like that.
His training schedule and effort level is top notch. The work he puts in off the field is unmatched. That’s not a joke. Bud will train at different places. He’ll go anywhere to get what he feels is the best training possible. He’ll lift at one place, get in his car, drive to the next place and work his speed drills there.
He always came to work his skill training with me. He would come in the morning. He would come in the afternoon. It didn’t matter. He doesn’t care. He just wants to work. If I was training someone else, Dupree would jump in. It didn’t matter if it was a high school player, college prospect or NFL superstar. He would just jump in and get to work. He’s ready to work anytime, anywhere. It didn’t matter if it was by himself or with a group of people.
His story is very unique. If you look at when we started working together, I don’t think there’s another player that had more pressure on him or dealt with more negativity in a four or five year period. What happened in Pittsburgh when he wasn’t having success, it was crazy.
The kind of person he is, he’s tough-minded. He never let it get to him. People called him a “bust” and other negative titles. I always told him, everything changes once you start getting sacks. When they see you as a sack artist, people will forget about what they called you.
Don’t get me wrong. He never complained. He never brought it up. This was me talking. You talk about a guy that didn’t let any of the negativity impact him, that’s Bud Dupree.
I don’t think there’s an individual position in sports on a team that’s more critiqued than the outside linebackers for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were searching for years. Before T.J. Watt, Bud was the guy. They had multiple draft picks before that.
I give a ton of credit to Bud. He never quit or let the pressure get to him. He just kept working hard. He’d come back one year, okay he got six sacks. The next year, he would get five or seven sacks. There was always a higher ceiling for him. People weren’t always kind when they spoke about him. I give a ton of credit to this dude. He’s a grinder. He has thick skin. He never let it bother him. He had a goal in mind and he did everything he needed to do as a pass rusher.
I’m not joking. He did everything. He put himself in a position to reach the level of elite play you’ve seen from him over the past few years. He’s at the pinnacle of his career right now.
He put in the work to receive this fabulous contract. He’s going to a team in Tennessee that has a chance to contend for a Super Bowl.
JM: That is some terrific insight. What do you feel his biggest strength is?
CS: He’s incredibly disruptive. That comes first. Because he’s a pass rusher, people don’t talk enough about his ability to stop the run. He’s deadly in the run game. You’re not going to run on Bud Dupree. He can play the run as good as any outside linebacker in the game. He’s an enforcer.
People fear Bud Dupree. When he hits you, you feel it. He knocks the hell outta you. People don’t talk enough about how tough he is. His ability as a pass rusher overshadows that. He sets the edge. He’s physical. He’s one of those guys where if you go look at his history, he has a reputation around the league as one of the toughest defenders.
I think that’s one of his best traits that doesn’t get enough credit.
JM: It’s interesting that you say that. When they’re in a sub-package front that includes Bud Dupree, Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry and Harold Landry, that’s still a tough front to run against. All four players can stop the run.
CS: I would agree with that. I think Jeff Simmons is gonna take the next step. Autry was a very solid pickup for them as well. Something that you just said got me thinking. Bud Dupree is a leader. He’s a team-captain type of guy.
I think Landry is going to benefit the most. That’s my honest opinion. Dupree has trained so much. He now has the ability to teach these moves that we’ve worked on. He’s going to teach Landry some of those moves. I guarantee it. Dupree can not only do everything that we’ve discussed, but he’s going to teach Landry too. He knows the system and he knows how to teach others. That’s huge for Landry. He won’t just tell you either. He knows how to break it down, step by step. He can teach it. I think it’s going to be huge for Landry.
I think the Titans are going to be really happy with Dupree.
JM: That’s a terrific point. I’ve really appreciated your time today, coach. This has been excellent and very informative. In closing, I have one final topic I want to cover with you. If there’s one thing that Titans fans may worry about when it comes to this signing, it’s the fact that Dupree played on such a talented defensive line in Pittsburgh. Watt commanded a lot of attention. The Titans don’t have a T.J. Watt. Dupree is very much expected to be “the guy” in Tennessee. The contract they gave him makes it obvious. They have some talented players, but it’s a different situation than the one Dupree had in Pittsburgh. What are your thoughts on that?
CS: I think he can be “the guy” as you put it. I think what separates him is that he’ll come in with a lot of skills. A lot of the guys that you signed in prior years didn’t have any skill. They didn’t have any signature moves. They had the “athletes” and “potential” tag even though they were high draft picks. Dupree has proven it.
I understand fans are sometimes hesitant because they’ve been burned in free agency in the past. All 32 teams get burned once in a while.
If Dupree is given the reins and the opportunity to use the moves, be creative and do what he does, he’ll have success. If he’s held back for whatever reason, and this goes for any pass rusher in the NFL, that’s when the difficult moments can occur.
But because Dupree knows how to use the moves and knows how to win, I think he’ll be more than fine.