Pit-bull lover Bud Dupree wants Titans to have '11 lead dogs on defense'

The Titans are banking on Bud Dupree strengthening their pass rush. Donald Page/Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's been four seasons since the Tennessee Titans last had a player register double-digit sack numbers.

Lacking a game-changing pass-rusher hampered the Titans' defense last season when they allowed an NFL worst 51.8% opponent third-down conversion rate and had 19 sacks, which was 30th in the league.

Which is why adding Bud Dupree, who signed a five-year deal worth $82.5 million in free agency, was so important. The linebacker finished with eight sacks in 11 games last season and had 15 QB hits. Despite missing five games in 2021, Dupree's 19.5 sacks over the last two seasons rank eighth among all NFL pass-rushers.

Adding the 28-year-old Dupree figures to make Tennessee's defense a more menacing unit. He wants to bring an edge to the Titans.

"I'm going to go out there and play with my hair on fire and get after the quarterback as much as I can. Try to create pressure," Dupree said in his introductory news conference. "Just chasing the ball. Running to the ball no matter where it is. If there is a pile, get in the pile and get dirty. Never turn down contact."

But there's more to Dupree than blowing up ball carriers. He's a lover, too -- especially when it comes to his pit bulls. Dupree has been around dogs all his life and loves a particular breed of pit bull known as the "bully."

"The bully breed, that's a special breed," Dupree said. "None of them come out looking the exact same. A lot of people use them as companion dogs. I have like 13 dogs right now. It's always fun to go home and let them out at the same time. Let them run around the yard. I don't feel right unless I have a dog. That's just a part of my life."

Dupree has a mindset that drives him to always look to make the big play when his team needs it. He wants the whole team to have the same "lead-dog" approach.

"That's just a mindset that I have and I feel like everyone on the field should feel the same way," Dupree said. "On this team, we are going to make 11 lead dogs on the defense. If we instill that into everybody it'll be 11 guys on the field and 11 guys that want to take your face off. I already see those guys moving that way. I'll come in and bring a couple of things from my game and they can show me the ropes as well."

Dupree plays with a chip on his shoulder that makes him one of the most violent hitters in the NFL, a chip that developed from feeling overlooked throughout his life -- especially when he played football at Wilkinson County High School in Irwinton, Georgia.

According to Dupree, doubters thought he wouldn't amount to anything. He didn't get scholarship offers until his senior year following a camp at the University of Tennessee he and his coach drove more than 300 miles to attend.

Their trip was almost derailed when his coach's transmission went out. But they made it to the camp where Dupree started to make a name for himself.

"Ever since then I just wanted to make sure I was one of the ones that they were talking about," Dupree said.

A scholarship offer landed Dupree at Kentucky where he and former Wildcats teammate Za'Darius Smith, now with the Green Bay Packers, destroyed opposing offenses.

Dupree was a first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015. He had 8.5 sacks over his first two seasons but posted 31 sacks over the next four seasons with All-Pro teammate T.J. Watt in the same lineup.

His success playing opposite Watt raised questions about whether Dupree could be as successful without an All-Pro lining up with him. But the Steelers suffered a turn for the worst last season after a torn ACL landed Dupree on the injured reserve in Week 12. They followed up an 11-0 start with a 1-4 finish and loss in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Dupree had an answer when asked if his success in Pittsburgh was the product of his supporting cast.

"Turn the tape on. If I get a one-on-one, I win," Dupree said. "With chips, I win. In the run game, no outside linebacker in the league is playing the run like me.

"If you turn the tape on and see me hit a running back three yards behind the line of scrimmage, how can you say that's because of someone else? Or if I win a rush in one second how could you say that's because of someone else?"

The seventh-year veteran was on his way towards career high in sacks and QB hits before the injury. Dupree said he's been working out at EXOS in Arizona and vows to be ready for training camp.

He joked about making a prediction for his 2021 sack total, but changed his mind on providing an exact number.

"I don't like to put a limit on my sacks because sometimes you think about a number and you'll settle for that number," Dupree said. "I just want to make sure I capitalize on every opportunity that I have."