The way that the interview cycle is structured in training camp this offseason allows us to hear from a number of relevant parties on a similar subject on a similar day. If we hear from a tight end on one day, we might also hear from the tight ends coach. Shaun Sarrett spoke on the same day as Matt Feiler.
Earlier today, defensive backs coach Tom Bradley and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick both spoke to reporters before the Pittsburgh Steelers practiced. Both of them commented on Fitzpatrick and what his role would be this season, envisioning him as fairly stationary and locked in as the free safety.
Naturally, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about these remarks after practice, responding to the reporter in question, “you guys kill me talking about what you hear”. This, of course, is in spite of the fact that the information came directly from the course.
“He’s a versatile guy. We’re committed to utilizing all of his talents”, he answered. “We’re gonna make those decisions based on game-planning week to week. One of the things that a guy that’s multi-talented like him provides is big-time versatility, and we’re excited about exploring that, but we’re not gonna tip our hands”.
As the years have gone by, Tomlin has grown more and more secretive about both his plans and his process. From a competitive standpoint, of course, there is nothing wrong with this, and certainly nothing that Bill Belichick doesn’t do.
And ultimately, he is the one who decides where somebody is going to play. If he wants to decide that Fitzpatrick will move around against a certain opponent on the schedule later on in the year, he is not going to hesitate to put that in the gameplan and make it happen. He runs the show.
The third-year safety and his role has been one of the most-discussed topics for the Steelers this offseason, which is not surprising given how he performed in 2019 and the fact that this will be his first full season with the team, having now had the opportunity to marinate in the system, rather than learning it bit by bit each week.
While it is true that Fitzpatrick has a versatile skill set, it is not transparently obvious that the defense is best served with him playing outside of a stationary role at free safety, where he excelled last season, and where he has spoken of as being most comfortable—he also said that he watched a lot of Ed Reed clips this offseason.
But even the threat of him moving around is good to have, and is something that you have to show here and there if you want to put it in the minds of opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks. We will only know what their plan is for him once the games get underway, but we do know that there is a variety of options.