Were it not for the sudden trade last night for Nick Vannett, then former Miami Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick would still be the fresh face on the 53-man roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, rare as it already is for them to make in-season trades for players, they have now done so in back-to-back weeks.
Not that the acquisition of Vannett to add depth to the tight end position in any way compares in magnitude to the significance of bringing in Fitzpatrick, who could be a decade-long Pro Bowl starter at free safety for them if things actually work out as they had envisioned even while he was still at Alabama.
Brought in on Tuesday, he started for the Steelers on Sunday and recorded an interception and a forced fumble. Though he didn’t play a perfect game by any means, which included some missed tackles, he was an instant impact, both on the field and in the locker room.
That was courtesy of his intelligence and his ability to learn quickly. While the team was able to get up to speed enough to play the whole game in just five days, without major communications issues, the task now falls upon them each week to not only get him prepared, but to slowly bring him along bit by bit, an approach he is taking himself about the defense.
“I think just continuing to learn it” is the biggest thing for him going forward, he said from the locker room yesterday. “I’m still learning day to day. I’m still learning as we play the game. I think just going out there and getting more comfortable with the team and my teammates. I think we played pretty well on Sunday. I was very comfortable with my teammates. We communicated very well, so I think just moving forward, just keep growing with that comfortability, and that’s about it”.
The Steelers now have a talented secondary including three former first-round draft picks, including Fitzpatrick, their own 2018 first-round safety in Terrell Edmunds, and veteran cornerback Joe Haden, who is in his third season with the team.
They have to get all of this talent together to work its way into one cohesive unit. Even though Fitzpatrick is both new and relatively inexperienced, however, he appears to have exhibited the cognitive fortitude to afford them the ability to accelerate that process, at least over the course of the season.