The 2019 season was Minkah Fitzpatrick’s first in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ system, so frankly, he wasn’t a part of all of the communication lapses that were a not insignificant issue during the first several years of Keith Butler’s tenure as the team’s defensive coordinator.
The third-year safety was acquired via trade two games into the 2019 season, and his installation into the offense proved to be something of a watershed moment. It was not entirely be coincidence that his arrival coincided with their transforming into one of the top defensive units in football.
Earlier this week, he said that their ability to execute was a big reason why that was. While he acknowledged that they have a lot of talented players on the field, he also said that that’s true of a lot of teams, and that their level of execution is what helped them to separate.
He sees them being even better in 2020, in large part because he expects the communication level to be stronger. Talking to reporters, he admitted that there were times that opposing offenses would take advantage of the inexperience of some players on the defense and their inability to adjust to pre-snap motions, but he said that’s a point of emphasis this offseason:
We had a lot of young guys on our defense last year that didn’t fully grasp the concepts and everything like that, and weren’t able to think on their toes 110 percent of the time, and teams started picking up on that. They started making people move around, make us think and communicate during the snap. That’s been a real big emphasis for all of us this offseason, working on that second level of communication after guys move, after the offense adjusts. That’s what we’re focusing on, and it’s definitely gonna help us out a whole lot once we are all on the same page and all understand the concepts and the schemes of the defense, and even what the offense is doing, so I think it’ll put us even further ahead of most teams.
Aside from Fitzpatrick, then still just a second-year player, coming in during the regular season, the Steelers also had a rookie starter in Devin Bush at one of the most critical defensive positions at mack linebacker. Steven Nelson and Mark Barron were both veterans, but new to Pittsburgh’s scheme.
This year, they might not have any new pieces on defense—at all—that would be asked to play a significant amount. While Barron is gone, he’ll be replaced by Vince Williams. Javon Hargrave will primarily be replaced from within as well. Chris Wormley is the new face who may see the most snaps.
Pre-snap adjustments are becoming increasingly more important in today’s NFL, and actually something the Steelers’ offense isn’t taking enough advantage of. At least the defense, however, appears to be understanding this, based on what their first-team All-Pro free safety had to say.