Minkah Fitzpatrick is the leader the Steelers need right now
PITTSBURGH — More than 45 minutes after practice ended on a sweltering August day at Saint Vincent College, Minkah Fitzpatrick was still on the field.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the leader the Steelers need right now The on-field portion of that day’s training camp was over, but the Pittsburgh Steelers safety still had work to do. Methodically, he worked with a staffer catching dozens of balls from every angle.
“[Defensive backs] coach Grady Brown, he says it all the time, ‘We are receivers as DBs. We have to have a 100% catch rate, but we catch almost 100% less passes than what the receiver catches,” Fitzpatrick said, sweat dripping as he caught his breath.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the leader the Steelers need right now “It’s important to get as many catches as the receiver does, whether it be straight on or distracted or the two at once. I think it’s important to get your hands used to securing the ball.”
Over his shoulder, from his left, from his right, over and over until he was satisfied with the reps.
Be that as it may, Fitzpatrick is seldom fulfilled. It keeps him getting back to the football field and the Steelers’ training office consistently, showing up sooner than expected and leaving late. It makes him the sort of pioneer the Steelers need directly following the T.J. Watt pectoral injury that undermines their season.
For the Steelers to survive at least a monthlong stretch without Watt — including Thursday night’s game against the Cleveland Browns (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video) — Fitzpatrick will have to be a focal point as a leader and a ball hawk, creating the kind of splash plays to infuse the defense with contagious energy.
“Minkah is a serious contender,” mentor Mike Tomlin said during instructional course. “… He generally needs access. He needs to cover beneficiaries. He needs to handle running backs. He needs to rush. He’s a football player. He’s a person that loves football. He’s a person that loves rivalry, and kid, he’s super a hero to have in a climate like this since there will never be a down day with him. He’s dependably about it. He’s dependably prepared to work.”
From the minute the Steelers gave up an unprecedented first-round pick to get the Alabama standout from Miami, Fitzpatrick has delivered. The Steelers believed Fitzpatrick, who won two national titles in three years, could be the anchor of the secondary — the next iteration of feared defensive players like Troy Polamalu — and Fitzpatrick answered the bell when he collected an interception in his debut against the San Francisco 49ers. The picks came in bunches that season as he corralled five in his first seven games.
“He’s vocal, he’s intense, he’s a big-time player and he has been since the day we acquired him on a short week going into San Francisco,” Tomlin said. “He was vocal that week.”
Fitzpatrick had four interceptions in 2021, but his responsibilities shifted and his role largely hinged on stopping the run. He finished with a career-high 124 tackles.
But after making him the highest-paid NFL safety this offseason with a 4-year, $73.6-million contract, the Steelers wanted to put Fitzpatrick in position to return to his ball-hawking ways in 2022.
“Folks like him, they need to be perfect,” cautious facilitator Teryl Austin said during instructional course. “They need to win each play. … He sees the game quicker than a many individuals I’ve at any point seen. What’s more, Ed Reed was the best that I’ve could work with. (Austin was Reed’s position mentor with the Ravens in 2011-12) He saw the game quicker than anyone I at any point played with back there.
“It’s a unique trait, and that’s what makes those guys great. We’ve just got to get him back to getting the turnovers.”
Two games in, Fitzpatrick is doing exactly that.
On the subsequent guarded play of the time, Fitzpatrick read Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Tunnel and jumped before beneficiary Tyler Boyd. Fitzpatrick caught the ball and ran it back 31 yards to the end zone for a pick-six. Then, at that point, he constrained additional time by hindering an additional point endeavor as time terminated. Against the Nationalists, he goaded Macintosh Jones into tossing over the center to DeVante Parker, who seemed to enjoy a critical benefit coordinated with inside linebacker Robert Spillane. Fitzpatrick gotten a move on, toward Parker to capture Jones’ pass.
Part of what makes Fitzpatrick such a threat is his versatility and ability to play all over the field. It’s something he resisted initially in Miami, but he found he was most effective in that role in Pittsburgh.
“I feel like when people know where I’m at they either choose not to go there or they scheme something away from me,” Fitzpatrick said. “But I think moving me around to get me in, in different positions — and I’m not saying every single play — but just give the offense different looks.”
For all the electricity Fitzpatrick brings to the field with his playmaking, he’s quiet in the locker room. He’s among the team’s most prolific trash-talkers, but in his day-to-day, Fitzpatrick keeps to himself as he goes about his routine.
“He generally comes in with his sack and his notes prepared to compose,” expressed running back Najee Harris, who’s known Fitzpatrick since he was 18 and was his partner at Alabama. “… He’s very put resources into football. … He’s generally here until around 7 p.m. I’m here late, and he’s generally here later than me.”
Fitzpatrick works late because he’s a self-described perfectionist and competitor. Even Harris, who’s a workaholic himself, said the most impressive thing about Fitzpatrick is his commitment to his craft.
“I don’t think being a perfectionist on the football field is a bad thing,” Fitzpatrick said. “I feel like I learn from my mistakes. I don’t dwell on them.
“… I’ve always been like that, but I’ve also been coached to be like that. … People hold me to a high standard because I hold myself to a high standard. And anything short of that, they checked me on it.”
That blend makes him a characteristic chief, regardless of whether he’s not a formally chosen skipper. Cornerback Levi Wallace, who likewise played with Fitzpatrick at Alabama and is one of his dear companions, said he decided in favor of Fitzpatrick as a chief alongside Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt.
“Everyone knows he’s one of the pioneers in the group, regardless of whether he leaves there for a coin throw,” Wallace said. “We know what his identity is and how he helps this group. The manner in which he leads, he doesn’t need to go on and on. It’s about his activities. Simply having a person like that, who in every case pushes you without attempting to push you. You need to work harder on the grounds that he’s buckling down.”
Right now, the goal is to help fill the void left by Watt. But Fitzpatrick could be in line for a major individual honor if he continues playing at the level he started this season.
“Incredible players, they will go out there and play perfect,” security Terrell Edmunds said. “He will go out there and put in his absolute best effort. Also, on the off chance that he keeps on having games as he did [against the Bengals], which I realize he can, then, at that point, most certainly he will be up in the discussion for Protective Player of the Year.”