Aside from the obvious reason that they had an immediate and emergency need for a starter-caliber free safety following the injury to Sean Davis, the Pittsburgh Steelers were attracted by the prospect of trading for Minkah Fitzpatrick for two reasons. One, because they knew that he was smart enough that they would be able to play him right away; and two, that he was talented and athletic enough to grow into an ever more dynamic role.
He showed right off the bat that he could step in and play, and coming in with an interception and a forced fumble in his first game was a fine way to introduce himself. But the Steelers have been adding a little more to his plate with each passing week, leading up to the bye, during which they filled it up.
“We are trying to see what we can do with him”, defensive coordinator Keith Butler told reporters yesterday. “We can’t be running the same stuff over and over again. He understands that. I’m sure he probably had the same experience at Alabama. Nick Saban’s defense is not very simple. It is going to take the same thing in the National Football League”.
“We can’t be really simple when we play people”, he continued. “We have to have certain shapes, getting in better defenses that we want to be in versus certain formations, stuff like that. We have to have guys who can make those decisions for us on the field. Not only that, but the guys that don’t make those decisions on the field listen to the guys who do make the decisions. He allows me to do that”.
Having such a smart and athletic player at free safety who already comes in with a history of working in complicated defenses in a variety of roles is a great asset to a defensive coordinator, as least once you get your player connected into your system and you’re able to take full advantage of his skill set. Butler is trying to find out now how much they can ask him to do.
But he and the team have already been impressed so far with what he has had to offer, and that starts with frequently being in the action, with 21 tackles compiled through four games. That is the third-most on the team during that span, behind only mack linebacker Devin Bush and strong safety Terrell Edmunds.
“I think a lot of times it is the position”, Butler said about Fitzpatrick’s ability to have an impact. “Every time the ball is snapped, the safeties are either in position or should be in position to make plays in case the front doesn’t make the plays in front of them. That is the biggest thing. He has done a good job for us. To me, he is very sudden. What I mean by that is once he realizes what is going on, he is quick to attack and do his job. I think that has probably helped us as much as anything else”.