Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin has a very clear goal in mind for Minkah Fitzpatrick. His star safety is already one of the best defensive backs in the NFL. In his two seasons in Pittsburgh, the fourth-year pro has two All-Pro selections. There is very little he has left to improve in how he plays the position. But Tomlin wants Fitzpatrick to take a step forward in another area: Becoming a more vocal leader for the secondary, which is fielding at least two first-time starters this season.
“Coach T this off season, he especially wanted me to be more vocal and not just on the field, but in the locker room, in the weight room and also on the field. So I’m just trying to take to that challenge,” Fitzpatrick said during a training camp media session Monday.
The goal is important enough that it was a main topic of Fitzpatrick back during OTAs in June. Now at Heinz Field in training camp and with the first preseason game 72 hours away, it bears even more importance as Fitzpatrick’s younger teammates take the field ahead of the season. Working with them, Fitzpatrick is buying in to what Tomlin wants him to do as the cornerstone of the team’s long-term secondary.
“I think it just comes from, I’m older now. I’m in year four, you know what I’m saying? I think it’s time to start sharing my experience and sharing my wisdom because I have a lot of experience,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve been starting since the very first day I walked into the league. So think I could impart a lot of my wisdom on younger guys and even older guys.”
Cameron Sutton is starting at corner for the first time. James Pierre will be jumping from 2020 UDFA to the team’s likely third corner in 2021. And in the slot will be some combination of Antoine Brooks Jr. or Arthur Maulet, either of which would be a full-time starter for the first time in their careers.
Fitzpatrick is an invaluable mentor for all of those players. Not only that, but as the best defensive back on the roster, he can offer some strong advice for fellow safety Terrell Edmunds and starting corner Joe Haden. Even Tomlin has admitted that Fitzpatrick is so talented and sees the field so well, he is learning from him.
“I’m very confident in what I do, very confident in my abilities. I prepare really well. I think I handle myself like a professional,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s kinda being demanded almost of me. A lot of the young guys are coming to me and asking me questions and picking my brain. I have the responsibility to talk to them and fill them in and take them under my wing.”
With Fitzpatrick’s considerable resume in such a short time, he was destined to end up a leader offering advice to others. His willingness to accept that role and become a more vocal player helping the more inexperienced starters develop goes a long way to improving a secondary that lost two key players from last season.