While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ big move of the offseason was the decision to move up 10 spots in the first round up to 10 to select inside linebacker Devin Bush, they doubled down on bold personnel moves in Week Three of the regular season, shipping out their 2020 first-round pick to Miami for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The second-year former first-round pick, who immediately replaced an injured Sean Davis in the starting lineup at free safety since Week Three, has played above the line in spite of the fact that he had to jump on the moving train, as head coach Mike Tomlin would say. His 21 tackles during that time is third on the team behind Bush and Terrell Edmunds. He also has an interception and a forced fumble.
But with the Steelers having a bye week after four games, it provided the team a great opportunity to play some catch-up with the guys that they had to bring into the fold mid-stream. Fitzpatrick would be the chief among them, but there is also tight end Nick Vannett, and, even if he may be moving back to the practice squad, quarterback Paxton Lynch.
Tomlin addressed the utility of the bye week for these sorts of players during his pre-game press conference earlier today. “Oftentimes when you experience some of the injuries and so forth that we’ve experienced where people have had an opportunity to get on a moving train”, he said, ”it’s good to have a week where we can take a step back and look at some fundamental things and see them in some competitive circumstances or challenge them in different ways other than game prep and game readiness”.
He mentioned Lynch first and foremost, pointing out that they were able to get him some quality work last week as somebody who has been on the practice squad and as a number three for most of his time in Pittsburgh, but the bulk of his focus was on his new free safety.
“We’ve been working extremely hard to teach him what it is that he needs to do”, Tomlin said, adding that “a week like last week allowed us to take a step back and teach him some more global things, to look at things outside his helmet and how he can be a part of that process, from detailing things out over the course of the field, but also in terms of pre-snap disguises and things of that nature”.
“He’s provided good-quality play for us”, he concluded. “It’s good to take a step back and do some of the other things that are less noticeable, but still significant”.
After the Steelers first acquired him, they talked openly about their desire to make use of his great versatility, but that it would have to unfold over the course of time as they had to ready him for his immediate role at free safety. Following the bye week, expect to see him start to play a more dynamic role in the defense after being able to catch up on some things that there was no time to work with him on in the heat of the moment.