Following Bud Dupree's season-ending knee injury, the Pittsburgh Steelers must deal with another key loss to its defense. Cornerback Joe Haden is confident the team's 'next man up' approach will suffice yet again.
Dupree, who suffered a torn ACL in Wednesday afternoon's win over the Baltimore Ravens, is one half of the league's top pass-rushing dup alongside T.J. Watt. Rookie Alex Highsmith and third-year LB Ola Adeniyi are slated to fulfill Dupree's absence, which Haden believes is a "two-man job."
"We have great confidence in them," Haden said, via the team's website. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin always says next man up. It's like (Robert) Spillane, how he came in and did it. We feel the same way with Highsmith and Ola. They are just starters in waiting. You know how Coach T says it, just waiting for their opportunity. We have two All-Pro outside linebackers, so the chances are limited. Them getting more of an opportunity. When Highsmith is in there, when Ola is in there, always making plays, attentive in meetings. They always know their assignments. They are just waiting for their opportunity.
"So, I am very excited for them. At the same time, it's going to be a two-man job. I don't think just one of them would be able to fill in for what Bud is doing."
Dupree's season prematurely ended with eight sacks. Watt, who leads the NFL with eleven sacks entering Week 13, didn't mince words when it comes to how Dupree's absence will be felt though he's encouraged by the team's mentality after Devin Bush's season-ending knee injury earlier this year.
"Very deflating," admitted Watt. "It's just so much going on. When you hear something like that happens, it's like holy cow his season could potentially be over, he's in a contract year. He's such a phenomenal player, a key player for what we do and what makes us who we are as a defense. And then you kind of have to fall back on that is what Devin (Bush) was to us too. You have to know it's the next man up mentality. You have guys like Alex Highsmith who is preparing like he has been a starter this whole time. We have to trust that the coaches are going to put him in the best position, us in the best position, to keep going forward. I have all of the confidence in the world in the guys in this locker room that we are going to be all right."
Highsmith, a third-round selection from the University of Charlotte, is expected to be thrust into the starting role while Adeniyi is likely to maintain his situational duties on third down. On Good Morning Football Weekend, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo labeled Highsmith as a "prototypical Steeler" and that the organization is excited to see how he progresses going forward.
While the Steelers will surely miss the leadership of Dupree for the rest of this year -- one in which the Steelers (11-0) are currently undefeated -- a silver lining for Pittsburgh is the strong culture established by coach Mike Tomlin, and how the team is reacting to the trials and tribulations of an NFL season, especially in 2020.
"Just the juice, the personality, energy," said Haden about what will be missed without Dupree. "He is one of the most liked dudes in this locker room. He brings so much energy. One of the nicest dudes. He looks out for everybody. He wants to make sure everybody is having a good time. I really, really, really like Bud. We are locker room mates. He is right next to me in the locker room. He is the juice and he is going to be missed a whole lot in the locker room. We see D(evin) Bush in the locker room getting treatment. They do a really good job with D. Bush, Zach (Banner) and I know Bud will too, just being around the facility, around the guys, around the locker room as much as possible. We just feed off of that.
"I love to see them because at the end of the day every time we see them, we know how much they want to be out there."