There were those, especially in the national media, who laughed at the Pittsburgh Steelers, or at least scratched their heads, when they decided to give up a first-round pick—in a season in which many believed they would be drafting in the top 10 immediately following Ben Roethlisberger’s injury—in exchange for second-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
But the 11th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft has played six games so far in Pittsburgh’s defense, and right now it’s hard to imagine them getting a player in 2020 more impactful than Fitzpatrick has been. To get him 18 games in his career, and for him to perform at this level, certainly seems like a good investment.
And one that has had immediate dividends, potentially salvaging a season deemed lost. They have gone 4-2 since acquiring him, and their defense has been much better, particularly in defending deep passes. He has four interceptions and a forced fumble while racking up the tackles as well.
And all of this, with his having to come in and learn on the fly. Ahead of today’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, Fitzpatrick talked about his quick transition into Pittsburgh’s defense while appearing on the Golic and Wingo show.
“A lot of it is—football is football. It’s not too hard to play. But to learn another system is like learning another language”, he said about having to come in and learn the Steelers’ defense in less than a week. “It’s the same meaning, but it’s a different word, so red might mean green in this language, or green might mean blue in another. Learning that was challenging, but I got comfortable with it fast because everybody helped me out. I put a whole lot of effort into it and they really prepared me to get out there on the field”.
Acquired on a Tuesday, he was in the starting lineup playing every snap on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. While they lost that game, it wasn’t really on the defense until James Conner had a critical late fumble in the fourth quarter. Fitzpatrick recorded an interception and a forced fumble in the game.
And that was after a very busy and hectic week, coming into the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the first time. “I was just talking with the coaches, meeting with the coaches extra as soon as I got here Tuesday, midday. They handed me a playbook. I didn’t even go to the hotel before I started”, he said.
“I went and met with [Teryl Austin], the defensive backs coach, and we watched some film for like, five or six hours, just learning the playbook, watching film”, he added. “Then I was meeting with the players, talking to Joe Haden, talking to Terrell [Edmunds] and some other guys, learning the playbook and understanding the concepts”.
The Steelers have had to work overtime to make their investment in Fitzpatrick pay off, but that is exactly what they have done, and we are seeing the results on the field on a weekly basis. It’s gotten to the point where you wonder what big play he is going to make each week.