On paper, there isn’t much you’d think Minkah Fitzpatrick needs to get better at. At just 24 years old, he’s turned himself into one of football’s best and most prolific safeties with two All-Pro nods in his last two seasons. With the ball snapped, he’s one of the most feared safeties in the league. But like all great players, they’re constantly evaluating themselves and finding ways to improve. For Fitzpatrick, that means improving on his game before the snap, not just after.
“I would say for me, we’re a younger team,” Fitzpatrick told reporters. “This year we’re a newer team. So I would say just stepping up in leadership and being more vocal. Pulling guys, making them do extra whether it be film or today after practice this doing extra. Going the extra mile.”
Last season, there were very few changes not only in the Steelers’ secondary but across the defense. The same group from 2019 returned for the 2020 season. Terrell Edmunds next to him at safety with Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, and Cam Sutton the team’s top four cornerbacks.
The continuity that existed last year is gone. Hilton went to the Bengals while the team released Nelson, who remains a free agent. There are voids with starters and depth and a host of youthful options trying to fill those spots. James Pierre, Justin Layne, Antoine Brooks Jr., or rookies like Tre Norwood, Shakur Brown, or anyone else who emerges could have significant roles on the Steelers’ defense. Whoever steps up will rely on veterans like Fitzpatrick to cut down on miscommunication.
Communication errors were a recurring theme with some of the Steelers’ defenses from years ago, so much so that it became basically a weekly occurrence DC Keith Butler would harp on that fact during his sessions with the media. It doesn’t matter what kind of talent or upside a group has if they can’t get on the same page.
For Fitzpatrick specifically, he wants to improve the finer details of his game.
“Just for me personally, I would say just mastering the fundamentals of his game. That’s what makes great players great. And elite players elite. The people that master the fundamentals of this game. I was with coach today and he said the things that make you a great college player are the same things that make you a great NFL player. But the guys that stop doing it because they get complacent, they get tired. They’re like, ‘oh, I don’t need to do this no more because think they’re too good. That’s what really separates the great from the elite. So I think just continue to working on those fundamentals.”
The same analysis and work ethic made players like Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt the stars they are today. The ones who combine rare talent with a top-flight work ethic become the stars of today. And there’s no doubt, Fitzpatrick is a star. One who is going to keep getting better, too.