Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick had a memorable debut with his new team on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers as the 11th overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft recorded an interception and a forced fumble after being acquired from the Miami Dolphins last Monday night in a trade. On Wednesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin assessed the Sunday play of Fitzpatrick during his weekly press conference and gave a positive report.
“I was really impressed by his ability to learn and learn in a short period of time and to absorb the number of snaps he was able to absorb,” Tomlin said of Fitzpatrick’s play against the 49ers. “And kudos not only goes to him, but in an effort to simplify things for him, we asked some additional things of others. And for the large part we got what we needed there. It will be good to get him with some additional time and to be able to continue for him to learn the depths of what it is that we do and have a better understanding. I think that’s not gonna do anything but aid him in terms of his productivity and us collectively as he gains a footing back there, particularly working with [Terrell} Edmunds.”
In addition to contributing two much-needed splash plays for the Steelers defense on Sunday, Fitzpatrick was also credited with five total tackles in that game. He did, however, miss two tackles Sunday and was flagged for roughing the passer early in the second quarter. Fortunately for the Steelers, that penalty didn’t result in any points being scored against them as a few plays later the defense recovered a fumbled snap at their own 7-yard-line.
According to charting done by Alex Kozora, Fitzpatrick played most of Sunday’s game lined up at free safety and that was to be expected with him being new and Tomlin indicating ahead of the contest that the then-newly acquired player would likely be anchored at mainly one position for his debut. Fitzpatrick, however, is charted by Kozora as having played 15 snaps in the box against the 49ers.
Now that Fitzpatrick has been crash-coursed on the Steelers defense at just a few spots and has one game under his belt, Tomlin indicated on Wednesday that he’ll now likely be asked to not be anchored as much to one position moving forward.
“You do things in the short term to get him ready to play in stadium, but then you also do things, you double back, in terms of continued teaching to add depths to the assignment element of play,” Tomlin said Wednesday regarding Fitzpatrick. “Sometimes when you have three practices, or three days, to get a guy ready to play, you tell him what he needs to know as opposed to telling him all the things that really kind of encompass some of the understanding things that allow people to play at the highest level.”
So, will Fitzpatrick likely be used more in the slot moving forward? Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler should give that idea some serious consideration as the Steelers defense has allowed a passing stat line of 39 of 43 for 548 yards and four touchdowns to opposing slot receivers through the first three games of the 2019 regular season, according to Pro Football Focus. Fitzpatrick, who has already established himself as a strong slot defender in his short time in the NFL, only played 6 defensive snaps in the slot in his Sunday debut with the Steelers
Monday night at Heinz Field the Steelers will play the Cincinnati Bengals with wide receiver Tyler Boyd likely to see most of his offensive snaps in the slot. Because of that, it will be interesting to see who the Steelers decide to line up against Boyd whenever he does work out of the slot and if Fitzpatrick winds up being asked to do so any.