It’s pretty hard, and rare, to stumble into being an all-time great at your chosen task. True savants who are simply naturally gifted at any one thing are a marvel. The vast majority of legends in whatever field you may choose are those who set out to be the best of the best, and then proceeded to put in the work to get to that point.
Many, many people have that goal in mind. The vast majority of them fall short. Minkah Fitzpatrick is hoping to be in the small minority, and he believes that he puts in the preparation that will at least put him in the position to make a run at it.
A third-year player who was a first-team All-Pro last year in his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Fitzpatrick solidified the free safety position for the defense following a mid-September trade, and he is raising the stakes that he set for himself a year ago.
“I think I prepare and I train and work like I want to be one of the best of the best”, he told Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report. “One of the best to play the game. I want to be compared to the Ed Reeds and the Polamalus and the Brian Dawkinses of the game. That’s the standard that I work to and the standard I try to hold myself to”.
Ed Reed and Brian Dawkins are already in the Hall of Fame. Troy Polamalu technically should already be in the Hall of Fame—he is a part of the 2020 class, but enshrinement was postponed until next year due to the coronavirus. The point is, that’s good company.
Through his first two seasons in the NFL, Fitzpatrick has compiled seven interceptions, two forced fumbles, three recoveries, and three defensive touchdowns, with 149 tackles, and 18 passes defensed. He picked up five of his career interceptions and two of his three career touchdowns in his 14 games with the Steelers a year ago.
“There’s definitely a game within the game”, he said. “There’s a gap between the good and the great and a gap between the great and the elite. I think the elite guys are athletic [and] also know how to play the game within the game”.
“Guys that really separate themselves know how to play that game within the game”, he added. “Now that I’m verbally saying it, I’m going to have to work up to it even more”.
I don’t think there’s anybody who’s played with him and watched him prepare for games who doubts that he has the potential within him to be the sort of player he aspires to be. Earlier this year, T.J. Watt said that he realized he had to pick up his note-taking game after sitting next to Fitzpatrick in meetings.
More recently, Cameron Heyward said of him, “I think a lot of people don’t understand how much he loves this game and how much he studies, because he was already in-tune with us in a matter of a couple days”.
He also said that he’s glad that you can’t go back on trades, because even though he cost the team a first-round pick, he still feels the Steelers “stuck it to” the Dolphins in getting a player of Fitzpatrick’s quality at that price.