The Pittsburgh Steelers hired a new defensive backs this offseason in Grady Brown and now he’ll oversee a secondary that includes cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson and safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds. As fate would have it, Brown already had a connection with Fitzpatrick, the team’s All-Pro safety.
During a recent interview with Teresa Varley of steelers.com, Fitzpatrick talked about his connection to Brown and how he was glad to hear that he was the one tabbed to replace Tom Bradley, who did not have his contract renewed earlier in the offseason.
“He recruited me when he was in South Carolina and we have stayed in contact throughout the years,” said Fitzpatrick of Brown. “I was pretty excited when I found out that we were getting him in the building. It’s a new face. It’s new experiences, new wisdom. He has a lot of experience under his belt. It’s going to be good to have him in the building.
“He is a good dude. That is a priority. He is a great guy. He is a family man. He knows what he is doing. He has the experience, he has the knowledge, he has the wisdom. He is a guy that I respect.”
Since Fitzpatrick arrived via a trade just a few weeks into the 2019 season, the Steelers secondary really has played well overall and the former first-round draft out of Alabama has played a big part in that being the case. That said, Fitzpatrick made sure to tell Varley that the solid play in the secondary these last few seasons isn’t all because of him.
“I feel like we are an underrated secondary to be honest,” said Fitzpatrick, according to Varley. “We have a great defense. We have a great front seven. They do a great job and help us out a whole lot. We have a really great secondary that gets overlooked sometimes. We have Joe Haden, one of the best corners to ever play the game. We have Steve Nelson opposite of him, great player, great man-to-man cover guy. Then me and Terrell Edmunds at the safety spots. I think we are probably one of the best duos in the league, him at strong, me at free. We work off each other well.”
While the Steelers secondary has its fair share of collective warts the last two seasons, a lot of those have popped up were likely due to poor communication at times. Fitzpatrick, however, believes the defensive backs are getting better in that communication area and he conveyed that to Varley.
“It was crazy because it’s something I said and a lot of guys said we needed to work on,” said Fitzpatrick of the communication aspect. “And that was probably one of the best things we did this year, our communication. Whether it was in the meeting room or on the field, we were communicating and talking, sharing everything we saw out there, and it helped us for sure.”
The most interesting aspect of the Steelers secondary when it comes to the 2021 season is who the team will rely on to play in the slot as it doesn’t sound like veteran cornerback Mike Hilton will be back and it’s very questionable as to whether or not cornerback Cameron Sutton might be retained as well. Regardless, Fitzpatrick has high hopes that the Steelers secondary will be just as good of a unit in 2021 as they were in 2020 when the group compiled 27 takeaways, the second-highest total in the NFL, and were tied for first with 18 interceptions.
“There are times we don’t hold up our end, but we can be the No. 1 secondary and people say these guys are for real,” Fitzpatrick said. “The amount of talent and experience we have back there is really good. Even the young guys that are up and coming and learning are talented. It’s just a matter of polishing them up and getting some experience under their belt.”
As for Fitzpatrick, specifically, his fifth-year option decision is due this summer and the Steelers will obviously pick it up. Once that happens, Fitzpatrick will be primed to sign a contract extension before the start of the 2022 regular season and if things go like many think they will, he will become the highest paid safety in the NFL at that time. In the meantime, however, Fitzpatrick and the rest of the Steelers defensive backs are striving to be the best in the NFL in 2021.
“We want that number one ranking all the way around the board, so I think we have to be consistent throughout the season, with good habits, good practices,” Fitzpatrick told Varley. “It’s just setting the standard. The standard is to be No. 1 and that is what we are working for.”