2019 Offseason Questions: Will Fitzpatrick’s Infusion Exacerbate Defensive Communication Struggles?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now in Latrobe at Saint Vincent College, where they have held their training camp sessions since 1966. While the vast majority of the legwork of building the 90-man roster is done, there is always some fine tinkering to do. Now it’s time to figure out who is worthy of a roster spot, and what their role will be.

The team made some bold moves this offseason and in some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago. That would especially be the case at wide receiver and inside linebacker, where they’re bound to have new starters.

How will those position groups sort themselves out? How will the young players advance into their expected roles? Will the new coaches be up to the task? Who is looking good in practice? Who is sitting out due to injury?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will the defensive communication struggle even more swapping out their free safety with the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick?

Short of Levi Brown in 2013, I truly cannot remember the last time that the Steelers acquired a player via trade in the middle of a season—let alone a player whom they expected to be an immediate full-time starter and a long-term contributor.

But that’s what they did officially yesterday with the acquisition via trade of Minkah Fitzpatrick, the second-year Alabama safety, for whom they traded a first-round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins. Fitzpatrick was unhappy with his role in Miami, likely in addition to the fact that they’re tanking, which is what made him available.

Getting him is great; but expecting him to merge seamlessly into the defense without missing a beat is a bit much. He’s still a young player himself and now is learning a new system on the fly, having less than a week to prepare to start on Sunday.

The Steelers have already been having some significant, even high-profile communications breakdowns on defense, particularly in the secondary, and they weren’t the result of Sean Davis, the man whom he’s replacing in the lineup, especially considering he’s missed most of the past two games.

It’s great to have talent, and talent Fitzpatrick certainly has. But can he play as part of an 11-man defense when he’s unfamiliar with the defense or the other 10 men? We have no choice but to find out. And since the Steelers weren’t comfortable turning things over to Kameron Kelly, they didn’t feel like they had much of a choice, either.

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