During Friday’s practice, Minkah Fitzpatrick logged only a handful of team reps. Largely a rest day for him and a chance to evaluate new and young faces behind him. But he still made an impact play, showing the true playmaker he is, jumping a Mason Rudolph throw intended for Chase Claypool and picking off the pass.
Yesterday, Fitzpatrick spoke with the media and was asked about what happened on that play. He said Tomlin challenged him and the rest of the group to understand tendencies and counter.
“They’ve been running a lot of certain concepts,” he told reporters via the team’s YouTube channel. “They’ve been kind of hitting us on it. Coach T kinda challenged us to study the game and understand what is happening. I saw it from the jump and I just made the read.”
Here’s what we wrote about in our description of the play, the first play of the fourth team session.
“1. Ball at the defense’s 26. Rudolph in at QB, Harris at QB. Bobble/juggle of the snap. Play got worse from there. Rudolph never sees Minkah Fitzpatrick. Tries to hit Claypool on a curl left side but Fitzpatrick breaks and picks it off. Great read, jump, angle, and finish. Brief run down the right sideline before ducking out of bounds to celebrate the turnover.”
Go back through our notes of the day and the team session earlier, Rudolph looked to hit Claypool on a very similar route concept.
“2. Rudolph wants to hit Chase Claypool on a comeback left side. But the throw is late and Cam Sutton is able to break on the ball and knock it away. Incomplete.”
Odds are good Fitzpatrick saw that, noted it, and made the adjustment the next team period, just as Tomlin instructed the group to do. If there’s a time for a defense to gain an edge, it’s when they’re going against an offense they’re facing daily. Makes it too easy for a guy like Fitzpatrick.
Pittsburgh’s secondary has been active throughout camp. They have six interceptions over the last five practices and at least one during the closed portion of camp, Antoine Brooks Jr. picking Ben Roethlisberger early on. But no one in this group is a bigger playmaker than Fitzpatrick. His combination of football intelligence, angles, and hands make him one of football’s most feared defenders and one quarterbacks try to stay away from.
It’ll be up to the Steelers’ coaches to scheme him in a variety of different roles, including being able to spin him down on third downs to rob crossing routes. That mission was easy last year given the Steelers’ versatility, Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton flexible and able to wear multiple hats, but will be tougher this season with a greener sub-package group.