Aside from the wide receiver position, no area of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster has undergone more significant changes over the course of the past two seasons than has the secondary, and in terms of investment and expenditure, the defensive backfield is probably at the top of the list.
That included two high-profile additions this year, starting with cornerback Steven Nelson back during free agency, and then adding second-year former first-round safety Minkah Fitzpatrick via trade following Sean Davis’ potentially season-ending injury in Week Two of the season.
The Steelers have only had Nelson for five games, and Fitzpatrick just three, but they have been pleased with the results they have gotten from them, both on and off the field, as head coach Mike Tomlin talked about earlier today during his pre-game press conference in preparation for the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
Both guys are professional. Both guys are really low-maintenance. both guys are really good preparers. The things that they do, their personal relationship with the game, to watch them move around during the course of a work week, how they take notes, the things that they do in walkthrough and in practices, the things that they do in that regard, they take a mature approach to prep, and I think that’s why they’re capable of delivering consistent varsity performance. I still think that we’re really getting to know both guys, but obviously we have a larger sample size with Nelson than we do Minkah, but really positive reviews from both thus far.
His numbers night not necessarily indicate it—21 tackles with two passes defensed—but Nelson has been a crucial solidifying force in the secondary, providing solid play in coverage week in and week out at the cornerback position. That is an area that has been lacking for several years opposite Joe Haden, and the early returns in that department have been strong.
As for Fitzpatrick, he had a season-high seven tackles on Sunday, giving him 16 in three games with the Steelers, to go along with an interception, a forced fumble, and two passes defensed, plus a hit on the quarterback, and he has done all of this while still trying to learn the defense just 21 games into his NFL career.
These are investments made for the long term, as well. Of their four primary defensive backs—Haden, Nelson, Fitzpatrick, and Terrell Edmunds—all are under contract for at least the next two seasons beyond 2019.
This is a group that is expected to grow together over time, but we are already seeing positive results, including from the two newest members of the group. Mike Hilton has also stepped up his game again in recent weeks. He will be a restricted free agent in 2020.