It’s not often that a top-15 pick in the draft is made available just a year or so into his career—though it does happen. Josh Rosen and Trent Richardson immediately come to mind. The Pittsburgh Steelers, of all teams, jumped into that game last season with their acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick in September, helping develop him into a first-team All-Pro free safety.
And he believes that is precisely why he was able to develop. As you’ll recall, Fitzpatrick was not thrilled about the way that the Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff was using him last season before they traded him to Pittsburgh. That may or may not have been a small part of the reason that he was made available. Either way, the point is, Pittsburgh saw this, trusted their scouting of him, and put him where they thought he would flourish.
“I think that Coach Tomlin and Coach But did a great job of studying me and making sure they’re maximizing, not just myself, but everybody else in the secondary”, he told Bryant McFadden over the weekend when interviewed for CBS Sports. His earlier comments make it clear that he is contrasting that to his last year in Miami.
“They played me real close to the line of scrimmage, sometimes on the line of scrimmage, in the box playing the linebacker/strong safety type guy”, he said. “In practice I was doing the same. I wasn’t really doing coverage; I was just doing taking on blockers and just learning how to adjust to different run schemes and stuff like that. And it was good and all, but I just didn’t think he was maximizing my skill set”.
Not that he wasn’t playing well, or was expressing his dissatisfaction, but the results of his 14 games in Pittsburgh, playing in a role that both he and the team feel is much more natural to him and his abilities, clearly indicate that he is better off in this role.
“When I came to Pittsburgh, they immediately just plugged me into the free safety spot and said, ‘this is going to maximize your skill set by playing you back here’”, he recalled. “’You’re an instinctive guy, you have range, you’re athletic and you go and get the ball, you like being around the ball. And we think that free safety is going to maximize that skill set’”.
(Almost) universally recognized as one of the top players at his position, one of the top young defenders, and whatever other accolade you might want to shoot his way, his landing in Pittsburgh wit ha coaching staff that viewed him differently than Brian Flores’ regime has so far worked out very well for both parties, so here’s to it continuing for another decade or two.