The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t had much luck in growing their own talent in the secondary. This is a weakness that they appear to have realized over the years, and have subsequently adapted their approach, understanding that their best course of action is to add established players with an NFL resume.
Three fourths of the team’s starting secondary now consists of players whom they either signed as free agents or traded for, with the most recent being the latter in the form of former Miami Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Since coming to the team five games ago, the 2018 11th-overall pick as produced four takeaways, with three interceptions—already tied for the most by any Steelers defender in a single season since 2010—and a forced fumble that was recovered by the defense.
Fitzpatrick helped make himself available, and after Sean Davis suffered a significant injury, the front office pulled the trigger, with the understanding that they were very comfortable in their knowledge of the player and who they would be bringing into their locker room and stadium.
Head coach Mike Tomlin talked about that earlier this week following his two-interception game against his former team. In responding to a question about Steven Nelson, actually, he described each of them as “a low-maintenance, low-key, really high-floor professional”.
It’s not often that such a young player like Fitzpatrick is a guy who you can plug and play into your system with just a few days’ notice and watch him perform at a high level. While his initial playbook was obviously scaled down to enable him to adjust step by step, they have performed since he has arrived.
The Steelers are 3-2 since he has gotten here, with one of those losses coming in overtime, and both of them the result of an inopportune offensive fumble very late in the game. The defense has piled on the takeaways, and along with Devin Bush and T.J. Watt, he has been one of the main catalysts. And none of it surprises them.
“We were so enamored with him in the draft process”, Tomlin recalled. “We really felt like we understood not only his talent level, but his approach, his football character”. He also pointed out the fact that defensive line coach Karl Dunbar was on Alabama’s staff, so he was familiar with Fitzpatrick’s day-to-day habit as well.
“There were very little unknowns about him from that standpoint”, he added. “So, we’re not surprised by what we’re getting, and hopefully it not only continues, but it improves as he gets his feet on the ground and gets a sense of not only what he’s doing, but how it fits into the big picture of things”.
That big-picture process started in earnest during the bye week, but it will continue to unfold for the remainder of the season, and even into next year. Fitzpatrick was a long-term investment. Chances are he will be here for a number of years. They wouldn’t have pulled the trigger if they weren’t so sure of that.