PITTSBURGH — Greater than 45 minutes after follow ended on a sweltering August day at Saint Vincent Faculty, Minkah Fitzpatrick was nonetheless on the sector.
The on-field portion of that day’s coaching camp was over, however the Pittsburgh Steelers security nonetheless had work to do. Methodically, he labored with a staffer catching dozens of balls from each angle.
“[Defensive backs] coach Grady Brown, he says it on a regular basis, ‘We’re receivers as DBs. We have now to have a 100% catch price, however we catch nearly 100% much less passes than what the receiver catches,” Fitzpatrick stated, sweat dripping off him as he caught his breath.
“It is necessary to get as many catches because the receiver does, whether or not or not it’s straight on or distracted or the 2 without delay. I feel it’s necessary to get your palms used to securing the ball.”
Over his shoulder, from his left, from his proper, again and again till he was glad with the reps.
However Fitzpatrick is never glad. It’s what retains him returning to the soccer area and the Steelers’ follow facility each day, arriving early and leaving late. It’s what makes him the type of chief the Steelers want within the wake of the T.J. Watt pectoral harm that threatens their season.
For the Steelers to outlive a minimum of a month-long stretch with out Watt — together with Thursday night time’s sport in opposition to the Cleveland Browns (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video) — Fitzpatrick must be a focus as a pacesetter and a ballhawk, creating the type of splash performs to infuse the protection with contagious power.
“Minkah is a severe competitor,” coach Mike Tomlin stated throughout coaching camp. “… He all the time needs in. He needs to cowl receivers. He needs to deal with operating backs. He needs to blitz. He’s a soccer participant. He’s a man that loves soccer. He’s a man that loves competitors, and boy, he’s simply actually a superb man to have in an surroundings like this as a result of there’s by no means a down day with him. He’s all the time about it. He’s all the time able to work.”
From the minute the Steelers gave up an unprecedented first-round decide to get the Alabama standout from Miami, Fitzpatrick delivered. The Steelers believed Fitzpatrick, who received two nationwide titles in three years, might be the anchor of the secondary — the following iteration of feared defensive gamers like Troy Polamalu — and Fitzpatrick answered the bell when he collected an interception in his debut in opposition to the San Francisco 49ers. The picks got here in bunches that season as he corralled 5 in his first seven video games.
“He’s vocal, he’s intense, he’s a big-time participant and he has been for the reason that day we acquired him on a brief week going into San Francisco,” Tomlin stated. “He was vocal that week.”
Fitzpatrick had 4 interceptions in 2021, however his tasks shifted and his function largely hinged on stopping the run. He completed with a career-high 124 tackles.
However after making him the highest-paid NFL security this offseason with a 4-year, $73.6-million contract, the Steelers wished to place Fitzpatrick in place to return to his ballhawking methods in 2022.
“Guys like him, they wish to be nice,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin stated throughout coaching camp. “They wish to win each play. … He sees the sport sooner than lots of people I’ve ever seen. And Ed Reed was the very best that I’ve had the flexibility to work with. (Austin was Reed’s place coach with the Ravens in 2011-12) He noticed the sport sooner than anyone I ever performed with again there.
“It is a distinctive trait, and that is what makes these guys nice. We’ve simply gotta get him again to getting the turnovers.”
Two video games in, Fitzpatrick is doing precisely that.
On the second defensive play of the season, Fitzpatrick learn Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and leapt in entrance of receiver Tyler Boyd. Fitzpatrick snagged the ball and ran it again 31 yards to the top zone for a pick-six. Then, he pressured additional time by blocking an additional level try as time expired. In opposition to the Patriots, he baited Mac Jones into throwing over the center to DeVante Parker, who appeared to have a big benefit matched up with inside linebacker Robert Spillane. Fitzpatrick sprung into motion, rocketing towards Parker to intercept Jones’ move.
A part of what makes Fitzpatrick such a risk is his versatility and talent to play all around the area. It’s one thing he resisted initially in Miami, however he discovered he was best in that function in Pittsburgh.
“I really feel like when folks know the place I am at they both select to not go there or they scheme one thing away from me,” Fitzpatrick stated. “However I feel shifting me round to get me in, in numerous positions — and I am not saying each single play — however simply give the offense completely different seems to be.”
For all of the electrical energy Fitzpatrick brings on the sector together with his playmaking, he’s quiet within the locker room. He’s among the many group’s most prolific trash talkers, however in his day-to-day, Fitzpatrick retains to himself as he goes about his routine.
“He all the time is available in together with his bag and his notes prepared to put in writing,” stated operating again Najee Harris, who’s identified Fitzpatrick since he was 18 and was his teammate at Alabama. “… He is simply actually invested in soccer. … He is all the time right here until about 7 p.m. I am right here late, and he is all the time right here later than me.”
Fitzpatrick works late as a result of he’s a self-described perfectionist and competitor. Even Harris, who’s a workaholic himself, stated probably the most spectacular factor about Fitzpatrick is his dedication to his craft.
“I do not suppose being a perfectionist on the soccer area is a foul factor,” Fitzpatrick stated. “I really feel like I study from my errors. I do not dwell on them.
“… I’ve all the time been like that, however I’ve additionally been coached to be like that. … Folks maintain me to a excessive customary as a result of I maintain myself to a excessive customary. And something in need of that, they checked me on it.”
That mixture makes him a pure chief, even when he’s not an formally elected captain. Cornerback Levi Wallace, who additionally performed with Fitzpatrick at Alabama and is one among his shut associates, stated he voted for Fitzpatrick as a captain together with Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt.
“All people is aware of he’s one of many leaders on the group, whether or not he walks on the market for a coin toss or not,” Wallace stated. “We all know who he’s and what he does for this group. The way in which he leads, he doesn’t have to speak an excessive amount of. It’s about his actions. Simply having a man like that, who all the time simply pushes you with out even making an attempt to push you. You wanna work more durable as a result of he is working so onerous.”
Proper now, the purpose is to assist fill the void left by Watt. However Fitzpatrick might be in line for a serious particular person honor if he continues enjoying on the degree he began this season.
“Nice gamers, they’re going to go on the market and play nice,” security Terrell Edmunds stated. “He is gonna go on the market and put his finest foot ahead. And if he continues to have video games like he did (in opposition to the Bengals), which I do know he can, then undoubtedly he is gonna be up within the dialog for Defensive Participant of the Yr.”