As Mike Tomlin loves to say, Minkah Fitzpatrick needs no endorsement. He’s proven himself to be one of football’s best safeties the past two seasons and a key piece to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. But Tomlin gave the highest praise to Fitzpatrick during his appearance on the Flying Coach Podcast and made one heck of a lofty comparison.
Tomlin spoke about Fitzpatrick’s football IQ and ability to have conversations with him that he can’t have with a lot of other players. Especially 24 year-olds like Fitzpatrick.
“We’re in the process right now this summer of talking about dealing with his alignment depth based on the nature of the offenses, right?” Tomlin told the show, hosted by Sean McVay and Peter Schrager. “RPOs versus play action and formational structure and things of that nature. Conversations, quite honestly, that you could not have with most guys. He’s able to digest things and make it turn up on the field that other guys can’t.”
The Steelers have put him in the best position to succeed, something Miami struggled to do, and allowed Fitzpatrick to read and make plays. His role with Pittsburgh has been more well-defined and let him be a cover. free safety much more often as opposed to a box safety or slot corner as the Dolphins attempted to use him. His football intelligence allows him to break on the ball like few players in the league can and is the reason why he has nine interceptions over the past two years.
Some of that is a natural gift but also likely a product of great coaching. Fitzpatrick played for Nick Saban, one of the best defensive and coverage minds in football, college or pro, and helped turn Fitzpatrick into a first-round pick. Now, he’s learning from Tomlin.
Tomlin said he coached Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ corner Ronde Barber in a similar way.
“Ronde was so sharp that I started coaching Ronde like Sam linebacker, even though he was playing nickel. He keyed the box and he played the run and he fit runs like a Sam linebacker. Really prior to that point, I didn’t know any secondary coaches coaching nickels in that way, to be honest with. Without a doubt, Ronde is the first nickel I saw in the National Football League chase a puller on a counter scheme and go make the tackle on the other side of the ball. And not stumble into it. I’m talking about he keyed it and played it. I tell that story because it’s really the same approach that I take in terms of dealing with Minkah. Minkah has that level of football intellect.”
Barber would become a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, Super Bowl champ and borderline Hall of Famer. Fitzpatrick is well on his way to having a similar and potentially even better career arc. Barber made only one Pro Bowl and All-Pro team before the age of 28. In just three years, Fitzpatrick has done each twice.
Coaching unique talent like those two brings out the best in Tomlin.
“The challenge of coaching great players and not only great players with great physical skills but guys with great intellect, it brought the best out in us. It probably accelerated my growth and development and really made me view the game from a different perspective.”