FILE - In this Sept. 10, 2015, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree (48) tackles New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the first half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. Dupree, the Steelers' first-round draft pi
Stephan Savoia, File
January 01, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) Bud Dupree's rookie season started with a sack of Tom Brady.

Four sometimes-uneven months later, the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker is hoping his team can claw its way into the playoffs.

Dupree, the Steelers' first-round draft pick, has had his ups and downs since sacking the New England Patriots quarterback in the opening-night loss at Foxborough, Mass. The former Kentucky standout has four sacks, 24 tackles and one defensed pass through 15 games.

''It wasn't like I wanted it to be,'' Dupree said of his rookie season. ''But I just have to keep showing progress and I will get where I want to be soon.''

The Steelers (9-6) want to get to the playoffs, a task made tougher when they lost control of their postseason chances last week by losing on the road to the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers not only have to win Sunday at Cleveland (3-12) but also have the New York Jets (10-5) lose at the Buffalo Bills (7-8) in order to reach the playoffs for the second straight season.

Dupree will try to do his part as he makes his sixth consecutive start.

Being a starter is largely symbolic because Dupree essentially splits playing time at left outside linebacker with Arthur Moats. Yet being placed at the top of the depth chart by coach Mike Tomlin is meaningful to Dupree.

''Showing the coaches they can put me in the starting lineup was the biggest progress I made this year,'' Dupree said. ''Earning their trust was key. It was a great feeling. Actually being able to go through that and make it happen, I was really happy when it happened.''

Dupree was chosen the Steelers' rookie of the year - earning the Joe Greene Great Performance Award - earlier this week in voting by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association of America.

He did not have much competition as tight end Jesse James, a fifth-round pick, has been the only other rookie to see significant playing time. Nevertheless, Dupree was honored to win the award named after the franchise icon and Hall of Fame defensive tackle.

''It means a lot to win it,'' Dupree said. ''I am just trying to follow in those footsteps and get better each and every day.''

The Steelers want to see more consistency from Dupree in future seasons. He has gone seven games without a sack since taking down the Bengals' Andy Dalton on Nov 1.

Moats, though, believes Dupree will be better able to handle the longer NFL season next year.

''He continues to grow every week,'' Moats said. ''You can see him understand the scheme and making adjustments to the professional level. Him being able to stay healthy has been a huge testament, because the level of athletes and the physicality is different than the college ranks, especially the first year.''

NOTES: WR Martavis Bryant (illness) is listed as questionable for Sunday's game, though he was a full participant in practice Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday. . CB Doran Grant (groin) is also questionable despite practicing in full Friday. ... WR/KR Jacoby Jones was released after being inactive for the last three games, and S Ross Ventrone was promoted from the practice squad. Ventrone appeared in five games with the Steelers earlier this season before being released Oct. 13.


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