One of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s most desirable qualities coming out of the draft was his ability to play all over the field. The Alabama safety ended up being drafted 11th overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2018 in part because of the intelligence and athleticism he possessed that enabled him to do that.
As his role expanded under a new regime in year two, friction arose, and he became available to trade, which the Pittsburgh Steelers seized on. Since he’s been here, they have kept him in a free safety role in which he has excelled, but even he himself has flip-flopped on the subject of whether or not he would be in favor of a more expansive role.
Given the shakeup of the secondary this year, with Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson gone, there may arise a scenario in which the Steelers would benefit from the ability to move him around. The coaching staff is aware of this, senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin said on Tuesday, but it is not something they are exploring right now.
“The thing with Minkah is you could put him anywhere. He’s such a smart player and he’s so versatile and he’s big and he’s fast”, he told reporters before practice. “You could put a guy like that anywhere and do a lot of things with him”.
“We haven’t explored that at this point, because again, we’re still trying to work through the main part of getting our main secondary solidified”, he continued. “But we’ll cross that bridge when it gets to it. But we do have the flexibility to do that, because we do have a lot of smart guys in the back end”.
A player with Fitzpatrick’s versatility is all the more important given some of the other, stationary pieces in the secondary. Both Joe Haden and James Pierre, for example, are exclusively outside cornerbacks, so having players like Cameron Sutton and Tre Norwood, who could play cornerback, safety, or slot, is a great asset.
“It always intrigues me” to have versatile pieces, Austin said. “It makes it hard for the offense. If an offense comes out and knows exactly where we’re gonna be, they’re gonna have a good idea of what to run and try to put themselves in the best position, but if we make it hard for them, then that works to our advantage”.
Will we actually see Fitzpatrick move around more, perhaps role down into the slot some, with either Sutton rolling back at safety or Norwood coming into the game and doing the same? I wouldn’t count on it, but of course there will be situations, such as in five-wide sets, where he would be asked to come down.