Minkah Fitzpatrick is the leader the Steelers need right now
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.
The on-field part of that day’s instructional course was finished, yet the Pittsburgh Steelers security actually had work to do. Purposefully, he worked with a staff member getting many balls from each point.
“[Defensive backs] mentor Grady Brown, he says it constantly, ‘We are beneficiaries as DBs. We must have a 100 percent get rate, however we get practically 100 percent less passes than what the recipient gets,” Fitzpatrick said, sweat dribbling as he paused to rest.
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.
In any case, Fitzpatrick is seldom fulfilled. It keeps him getting back to the football field and the Steelers’ training office consistently, showing up before the expected time and leaving late. It makes him the sort of pioneer the Steelers need right after the T.J. Watt pectoral injury that undermines their season.
For the Steelers to survive at least a month-long 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 defence with contagious energy.
“Minkah is a serious contender,” mentor Mike Tomlin said during instructional course. “… He generally needs access. He needs to cover recipients. He needs to handle running backs. He needs to barrage. 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 consistently about it. He’s consistently prepared to work.”
From the moment the Steelers surrendered a remarkable first-round pick to get the Alabama champion from Miami, Fitzpatrick has conveyed. The Steelers accepted Fitzpatrick, who brought home two public championships in three years, could be the anchor of the optional – – the following emphasis of dreaded protective players like Troy Polamalu – – and Fitzpatrick addressed the ringer when he gathered a capture attempt in his presentation against the San Francisco 49ers. The picks came in bundles that season as he corralled five in his initial 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.”
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the leader the Steelers need right now 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,” guarded organizer 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. Furthermore, 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 second defensive play of the season, Fitzpatrick read Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and leapt in front of receiver Tyler Boyd. Fitzpatrick snagged the ball and ran it back 31 yards to the end zone for a pick-six. Then, he forced overtime by blocking an extra point attempt as time expired. Against the Patriots, he baited Mac Jones into throwing over the middle to DeVante Parker, who appeared to have a significant advantage matched up with inside linebacker Robert Spillane. Fitzpatrick sprung into action, rocketing toward Parker to intercept 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 individuals know where I’m at they either decide not to go there or they conspire something away from me,” Fitzpatrick said. “In any case, I think moving me around to get me in, in various positions – – and I’m not saying each and every play – – however give the offense various 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 pack 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 dependably here until around 7 p.m. I’m here late, and he’s generally here later than me.”
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the leader the Steelers need right now 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 skipper alongside Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt.
“Everybody knows he’s one of the leaders on the team, whether he walks out there for a coin toss or not,” Wallace said. “We know who he is and what he does for this team. The way he leads, he doesn’t have to talk too much. It’s about his actions. Just having a guy like that, who always just pushes you without even trying to push you. You want to work harder because he’s working so hard.”
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the leader the Steelers need right now 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,” wellbeing Terrell Edmunds said. “He will go out there and put in his absolute best effort. Furthermore, assuming 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 Guarded Player of the Year.”