Will Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick suit up and play on Sunday? That’s the biggest question for the team right now heading into a critical division game. He missed the team’s last game after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Saturday.
While he returned to practice yesterday, he cautioned that it’s far from a guarantee that he will be able to play in a game for 60 minutes. He also more or less said that the decision will come down to how he feels about playing, provided that the team medically clears him. He explained the concerns about returning after a laparoscopic operation.
“That’s not really the worry,” he said of potentially risking organ damage by playing, via the team’s website. “The doctor told me I can’t really do too much damage to that. That’s gonna heal pretty quickly on its own. The worry is where they cut open. They cut through muscle, obviously, to get into your stomach, so you just want to make sure that that’s healed properly before you get out there and go full speed.”
And that’s the important part to keep in mind here as we watch his steady progress from getting onto the field to jogging a bit and now to being listed as a full participant in Thursday’s practice. It’s obviously a great sign, but playing football and all the unexpected motions is a different ballgame.
“It’s more of the twisting and the turning and stretching up and down and stuff like that that aggravates it. The doctor said that if I would play, he doesn’t think padding would do too much,” Fitzpatrick said when asked out potential ways he could mitigate risks—in other words, he really can’t. It’s just a matter of his body healing to a certain point.
So does he think he’s going to play against the Bengals? “We’re gonna find out Sunday,” he said. “It’s something I’ve got to take it day to day. Something I definitely don’t want to rush back from. Like I said, we’ll see what Sunday looks like, see how I feel Sunday.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin has a well-earned reputation of being protective of his players when it comes to their health. Fitzpatrick said that Tomlin told him the most important thing was for him to be honest with himself about how he feels. “He told me if I can’t play 110 percent, then there’s no point in me being out there.”
Perhaps the fact that the Steelers have actually had success in the two games he has been forced to sit out this year takes some of the psychological pressure off of him in feeling the need to be there for his teammates. Perhaps it doesn’t. I’ve never competed on this level, so I can’t speak to what that drive is like.
But it does help that they finally have Damontae Kazee on the field. An offseason addition, he is a very experienced starting free safety, and he played every snap on Sunday fresh off of the Reserve/Injured List.