When Saint Vincent College’s August practice finally wrapped up, Minkah Fitzpatrick was still out there. Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers’ safety’s on-field training camp duties for the day were complete, he still had plenty to do off the field. He and an assistant worked methodically, catching a multitude of balls from various positions.
“We are receivers as DBs,'” Grady Brown, the defensive backs’ coach, is fond of saying. Fitzpatrick responded, his forehead damp with perspiration, “We have to have a 100% catch rate, yet we catch about 100% fewer throws than what the receiver catches.
It’s crucial to make as many catches as the receiver does, whether they’re focused on you or distracted. Practice securing the ball in your hands is crucial, in my opinion.
He repeated the motion again and over again, from both sides, until he was satisfied with the number of repetitions he had completed.
However, Fitzpatrick is rarely content. His dedication to the team is what motivates him to show up to work early and stay late at the Steelers’ training facility every day. Given the severity of T.J. Watt’s pectoral injury, it’s clear that the Steelers need a strong leader like him to carry the team through the remainder of the season.
For the Steelers to survive without T.J. Watt, they'll need the intangible boost they get from Minkah Fitzpatrick playing out of his mind.
"Guys like him, they want to be great." https://t.co/Pa8f9aEKdD
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) September 22, 2022
With Watt sidelined for at least a month, the Steelers will need Fitzpatrick to step up as a leader and a ball hawk, making the kind of splash plays that inject the defense with contagious zeal in order to win games like Thursday night’s (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video).
Coach Mike Tomlin made it clear during training camp that Minkah is a fierce rival. And he always wants to join in. He’s interested in buying receiver insurance. He aspires to make plays on running backs. He is planning a blitz.
Now he plays football professionally. Football is a big passion for him. Because of his enthusiasm for competitiveness, he is an asset in a fast-paced setting like this one. In other words, he never sits still for long. It’s easy to get stuff done with him because he’s always prepared.
When the Steelers traded a record-setting first-round pick to Miami for Alabama’s star quarterback, they expected immediate results, and they have gotten them from Fitzpatrick.
The Steelers saw in Fitzpatrick the next generation of fearsome defensive players like Troy Polamalu, and he delivered in his first game by picking off a pass against the San Francisco 49ers. Fitzpatrick won two national championships in three years at Florida State. Five of his season’s total of ten interceptions came in the first seven games.
Tomlin praised him as “vocal, intense, and a big-time player,” adding that his reputation preceded them from the moment they acquired him on a short week heading into San Francisco. “He really spoke up that week.”
In 2021, Fitzpatrick made four picks, but his focus turned to help the defense stop the run rather than intercepting passes. In the end, he racked up 124 tackles, an impressive number for his career.
The Steelers signed Fitzpatrick to a four-year, $73.6 million contract this offseason, making him the highest-paid NFL safety. They hoped he would resume his ball-hawking ways the next year.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin made this observation about him during the preseason. They’re always looking for a way to score. I haven’t met many people as quick as him to grasp the big picture. As for me, working with Ed Reed was the highlight of my career. (In 2011–12, Austin served as Reed’s position coach for the Ravens.) He had the quickest eye of anyone I ever played with in that era.
It’s an exceptional quality; it’s what sets such men apart. We need to get him to turn the ball over again. Fitzpatrick has already accomplished that feat twice this season. Fitzpatrick anticipated a pass from Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and dove in front of receiver Tyler Boyd on the team’s second defensive play of the year. Fitzpatrick picked up the pass and scored a touchdown by returning it 31 yards.
Then, as time was running out, he blocked an extra point attempt, sending the game into overtime. When playing against the Patriots, he tricked quarterback Mac Jones into passing over the middle to wide receiver DeVante Parker, who had an apparent matchup advantage against Patriots inside linebacker Robert Spillane. To prevent Jones’ pass from reaching Parker, Fitzpatrick immediately sprang into action and sprinted in his direction.
Fitzpatrick’s threat stems in part from his adaptability and ability to play multiple positions. While he opposed this at first in Miami, he ultimately recognized that his strengths lay in this position in Pittsburgh.
“I feel like when people know where I’m at, they either choose not to go there or scheme something away from me,” Fitzpatrick said. To give the offense new options, I think it would be beneficial to move me around and put me in different spots on occasion.
Despite Fitzpatrick’s electrifying play on the field, he is rather reserved in the team’s changing room. Even though he’s known as one of the team’s biggest trolls, Fitzpatrick prefers to keep to himself while he goes about his daily activities.
Running back Najee Harris has known Fitzpatrick since they were both 18 years old and were teammates at Alabama. “He always comes in with his bag and his notes ready to write,” Harris said. It’s just that football means a lot to him. Every day, he stays until approximately 7 o’clock. I’m late, and he’s perpetually tardier than me.