Minkah Fitzpatrick entered the 2018 NFL Draft marketed as one of the most versatile defensive backs to come into the league in years, not incredibly dissimilar to Jabrill Peppers in terms of the diversity in that which team could be anticipated to ask him to do for their defense at the next level.
The Miami Dolphins had exactly that versatility in mind for him last year when they used the 11th-overall pick on him, making him the first safety off the board, but it’s something he quickly grew tired of after they reportedly asked him to learn about six or seven different positions for the defense this offseason. That was a part of the reason that they ended up trading him to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And while both he and head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged that what they ask him to do will expand with time as they grow more comfortable with one another, the plan at least for this week was to keep things straight and narrow, as simple as possible, in order to allow him to play at the fullest capacity possible on such a short turnaround. Fitzpatrick believes they were able to do this successfully.
“They kept it simple, for the most part, and just allowed me to go out there and play fast, play my game of football, and I feel like I definitely did that”, the second-year safety said after his first game with the Steelers, starting at free safety in place of the injured Sean Davis, who was placed on the Reserve/Injured List shortly after he was acquired.
For the game, Fitzpatrick registered five tackles, recorded an interception, and forced a fumble, also registering a hit on the quarterback as a blitzer. At the same time, however, he also missed at least one tackle, a notable one against the San Francisco 49ers’ fullback, and was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty in addition to that.
It was an interesting and largely successful debut for the Alabama defensive back in the black and gold, not without its warts but one in which he was clearly able to display the talent that made him a high first-round draft pick just a short time ago.
How much of that was because they were able to keep the gameplan simple for him and around him? A fair bit, I’m sure, though I don’t think any reasonable defensive coordinator would have asked a new face to do too much on less than a week’s notice.
The assignments he will be given from this point forward are likely to expand on nearly a weekly basis as he grows more and more comfortable with the defense and with his teammates, with a notable jump once they’re able to have their bye week.
For now, it’s a matter of expanding at a slow, steady pace, while keeping things simple. They’ve seen that they can get results from him by following that approach.