The Pittsburgh Steelers should consider themselves fortunate, because they are not in a position in which they require significant contributions from rookies this year. Between both sides of the ball, in fact, they only have two players with fewer than two seasons under their belt who should be expected to play a big role this year: wide receiver Diontae Johnson and inside linebacker Devin Bush. And both already got their whole body wet, let alone their feet, as rookies.
That is a significant advantage for the Steelers, according to Minkah Fitzpatrick, in this unorthodox offseason, but by no means does that suggest that they are shortchanging the rookies and their learning process while facilities are closed just because they don’t anticipate them being factors. In fact, he sees veterans going out of their way to help the younger players.
“With the defensive backs, that is all I can speak for, we have been going through coverages and schemes. We started with the older guys. We will go through coverages in detail and everything. Then we started with the younger guys and rookies”, he told reporters earlier this week during a conference call.
“They are breaking down coverages and schemes”, he went on. “We’re communicating with them. Our coach is communicating with them. We are letting them talk because we want to know what they know. A lot of places don’t let the rookies talk and communicate. We are making sure they are communicating, asking questions. We are making them feel comfortable and trying to get them up to speed”.
Despite his stature within the team, Fitzpatrick is actually still a young player, only going into his third season, and he has only even been with the Steelers since the middle of September, so like the rookies, this is also his first offseason in Pittsburgh.
But guys like Justin Layne, a third-round pick last year, and Antoine Brooks, a sixth-round pick in April, are part of that younger group, and the older players more familiar with the system are doing their part to make sure that they’re heard and that they’re learning.
Since Mike Mitchell was waived a couple of years ago, Joe Haden has informally taken over the role of the veteran leader among the defensive backs. Though young, Fitzpatrick is beginning to become a veteran presence as well. Like David DeCastro, he’s quiet at first, but I would imagine opens up when you get to know him and he is comfortable in his surroundings.
The Steelers gave up a first-round pick to get him, and he rewarded them with seven takeaways, two touchdowns, and a first-team All-Pro season in just 14 games. But now it’s up to him to provide a career’s worth of encore performances, and also to be a veteran leader to those who are behind him.