Three years on into his Pittsburgh Steelers career, All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick understands that this is now ‘his’ team, in the sense that he is one of the principle players within that group, and the sort of player that others turn to. It is in stark contrast to his mid-season arrival in 2019.
“I’ve been here for, this is my third season now. When I first got here, I didn’t have [any] responsibility besides doing my job”, he told reporters on Thursday. “They handed me a playbook and said this is all you got to do. So that’s what I did”.
The Steelers first acquired him via trade between the second and third weeks of the season, having an immediate need for a starting free safety. Then a second-year player, Fitzpatrick was plugged right in and just asked to go out there and play his role within defined parameters.
That’s a far cry from where he is now on the field, even this year the coaching staff continuing to expand his platform, including sliding him down into the slot and into the box on a more regular basis, for example. But it’s also a growth outside of the wide lines.
“I feel like I have a lot more responsibility communicating to everybody on the field, making sure everybody is aligned the right way, seeing things on the field”, he said. “Making sure guys are developing the right way. I’ve definitely, definitely established more of a leadership role, and I’m gonna keep continuing to challenge myself to give 110 in that area, because that’s something I personally feel like I could do better”.
It’s worth noting that Fitzpatrick himself only turns 25 years old the middle of November. He’s still very much a young guy, but he’s also, incontrovertibly, one of the most important players on the entire league, not just because of the significance of the position that he plays but because of what he delivers while playing it, being named first-team All-Pro in both of his previous two seasons.
Still, he surely knows that he must do more on the field this year. While he has 28 tackles to his name so far, that’s all he has contributed in terms of statistics. He has dropped at least two potential interceptions, one of which did get popped up into the air and intercepted instead by Terrell Edmunds. He recorded nine interceptions combined in 2019-20.
As far as leadership goes, he has played that role. We have heard from younger defensive backs like James Pierre and rookie Tre Norwood that they have been taken under Fitzpatrick’s wing. I believe Antoine Brooks Jr. said that as well before he was let go. His wing will be much bigger by this time next year, though, to accommodate all the extra money he’ll be making.