Bud Dupree returns to Georgia hoping to bolster Falcons defense

Bud Depree thinks he might have his own cheering section at Mercedes Benz-Stadium next season.

The Falcons signed Dupree, a Macon native who attended Wilkinson High School in Irwinton, to a one-year deal as their latest veteran defensive addition. A first-round NFL draft pick in 2015, Dupree has spent his career with the Steelers and Titans, but this is his homecoming. He already has been bombarded with family and friends who want to see him play professionally for his local team.

“We thought about it; you see guys like (Michael) Vick and them doing the dirty bird (dance) and having a great time, but to actually be in the mix of it and be in the culture, it’s a plus. The Falcons were my hero growing up. Michael Vick was our neighborhood hero growing up. To be part of this journey is amazing.”

Dupree, 30, has been limited to 11 games in each of the past three seasons because of injuries. He tore his ACL in his final season with the Steelers. He dealt with hip issues and injured his pectoral muscle during his two seasons in Nashville, leading to his release. But Dupree said he’s “100% perfect” again, feeling the best he has since before tearing his ACL in 2020.

During his time sidelined, Dupree reevaluated his approach. He reflected on how he prepared and how he could alter his routine with his health in mind. For one, he dialed his training back.

“You can’t do it all the time when you’re an explosive athlete like myself,” he said. “You think you’re working hard, and you are working hard, but you’re working backwards because your body needs time to rest and relax. Everybody’s body is different. When you get to a certain point, you have to start doing different things.

“I have a chip on my shoulder because I’ve been hurt these past couple years, so I’m going to play as hard as I can just to be able to get back into that mix personally, and also for the team.”

He won’t bear a heavy burden in Atlanta, joining a Falcons group that includes ascending second-year players Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone. He’s already sounded impressed with new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, who he described as “intense.”

“He’s breaking down (pass rushing), and it’s exciting to me,” Dupree said. “I’m ready to work with him. It’s fun.”

Dupree also is joining a pass rush that’s been ineffective for years. The Falcons have 39 sacks across the past two seasons, and their inability to affect the opposing quarterback had been a problem even before the current regime took over.

The team signed Dupree and Calais Campbell and re-signed Lorenzo Carter to create a deeper defensive front. It also could draft a pass rusher with a premium selection this week.

“I think it’s great for the culture, for the fans, for the team and for the city,” Dupree said of the team’s experienced additions. “A lot of great guys coming in, and it’s only going to get better. A lot of competition. Guys like Calais, he’s one of those older, older guys who’s really a vet in the role. So it’s exciting to learn from that type of person. I know it’ll help Grady (Jarrett) out tremendously to have that type of impact in the middle.

“No telling about the other guys, man. Everybody is excited to be part of this. I can just sense in the locker room, the workouts, all these guys are eager, and they know there’s an opportunity for us to go out here and make a big splash.”

Whatever his role, Dupree is one reason the Falcons have the best defensive depth they’ve assembled in years.

“I fit in the defense, edge rusher, run stopper,” Dupree said. “Being able to come in there right away with some experience, a veteran mentality. Just do the best I can do to make as many plays as I can.”