Throughout much of the 2021 season, star Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick had to adjust his role in then-defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s scheme, serving as more of a downhill run supporter rather than a center field, ball-hawking safety due to injuries and poor play in front of him.
Now, following some key additions, return to health and secondary coach Teryl Austin taking over as the new defensive coordinator in the Steel City following Butler’s retirement, the Steelers should see Fitzpatrick get back to his play-making ways once again in 2022.
For Cincinnati Bengals’ fourth-year head coach Zac Taylor, the understanding and appreciation of just how great Fitzpatrick is remains, but there is some uncertainty about just what his role will be and what the Steelers will ask their star safety to do this year, causing some headaches when it comes to game planning for the Steelers’ defense ahead of the Week 1 matchup Sunday at Paycor Stadium.
Speaking with reporters earlier in the week ahead of the season-opening matchup, Taylor praised the young Steelers’ safety, who for a brief moment was the highest-paid safety in football.
“Minkah is a great player. He has come in and done a great job taking the ball away immediately when he got to Pittsburgh. That’s been his M.O. You can tell he has tremendous leadership qualities,” Taylor said of Fitzpatrick, according to Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley. “They’re able to do a lot of different things with him. Will that change this year? Who knows, we’ll find out. He’s certainly a big piece of their defense. A guy that has been there now a number of years. They have a couple of guys that have been there a number of years. Their key component is their defense. They’ve been there.
“They know what their culture is about on defense. They’ve played at a high level and been a part of a lot of successful teams. I am sure that filters around to guys that are a little bit newer.”
The Steelers’ defense is the black and gold’s calling card, one that will be called upon heavily in 2022, much like the unit that Fitzpatrick helped take to new heights in 2019 was. That’ll start with Fitzpatrick returning to his role as the center field safety, one that moves all over the formation and is allowed to freelance a bit to try and make plays.
Austin stated last week that when Fitzpatrick is freed up to make plays, he’s a better safety, and that a the goal is to get him back to those ways, starting in Week 1 against the Bengals. Based on how the Steelers have deployed Fitzpatrick this offseason in training camp and the preseason, there’s a good chance he’ll be moved all over the formation searching for plays, helping the Steelers’ defense return to its formidable ways.
That could spell trouble for the Bengals early on.