The majority of the all-time greats of the game also happen to be great athletes, or at the very least possess great skill. But it’s nigh impossible to obtain truly elite status without also putting in the same level of effort in the film room, in the class room, as you do on the field, especially for some positions more than others.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is a young defensive back looking toward becoming one of those all-time greats. He is already establishing himself in the classroom, and in meetings, as his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates and coaches saw for themselves after the team traded for him in September.
Back in January at the end of the 2019 season, T.J. Watt, after establishing himself as one of the great young edge defenders in the NFL, talked about how he learned from Fitzpatrick, who was new to the team and one year his junior.
“He just seems to be a sponge and writes everything down to remember it”, he said of Fitzpatrick’s classroom habits. “I like to take notes but this guy takes a ton of notes. Sometimes, he’s like, ‘I’m just writing the date, chill’ because I say so many snarky comments to him. It’s fun. He makes me want to take more notes too because I’m next to him. And I’m like, man, I should probably pay more attention”.
Perhaps that’s why it didn’t take long for Mike Tomlin to invite him to sit in on some meetings. As he told the Around the 412 podcast earlier this month, and transcribed by AL.com, he likened his experiences with Tomlin in a classroom setting to the relationship that he had with Nick Saban at Alabama.
“I’ve got opportunities to sit in the actual coaches meeting before with coach Saban as he’s breaking down film and going through stuff as I was learning a new position, so I got to see the way that he broke the game down and the way that he thought about the game”, he said.
“I’ve also had the same opportunity with coach Tomlin. He has meetings with three or four guys in the room, and he has his notebook out, and he’s just checking off a whole bunch of different stuff”, he continued. “He has numbers on the board, stats on the board from the offense that we’re going against — Hey, second-down-and-long, second-down-and-7 is this, is that – and is just really detailed when it comes to the game. I think that’s definitely something that they have in common and a big part of why they’re successful”.
Tomlin receives a lot of criticism and accusations of a lack of preparedness. Even a comment that Fitzpatrick made earlier this year in which he talked about how the Steelers’ scheme remains consistent was used to fuel that criticism. But the young safety told the podcast that their preparation was one commonality that made both Saban and Tomlin so successful.
And he is one of the privileged players who gets a deeper look into that level of preparation, because he is one of the cornerstones of their defensive plan.