Say the name Minkah Fitzpatrick around Pittsburgh right now, and the nearest person will probably buy you a cold beer.
Despite arriving to the Steelers in Week 3 of the 2019 season, it feels like Fitzpatrick just ... belongs. And fans have noticed, quickly raising him to hero status across social media and beyond:
Minkah Fitzpatrick: *breathes*
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 6, 2019
If you couldn’t handle us at our Ross Cockrell you don’t deserve us at our Minkah Fitzpatrick https://t.co/5BIx6FXcmH
— stephen thomas (@Crinkavelli) November 5, 2019
But there's cause for all the excitement. Fitzpatrick's aggressive and opportunistic, already generating four interceptions for the team — the most by a Steelers defensive back since Troy Polamalu snagged seven in 2010.
In all, Fitzpatrick has those four picks, a touchdown, six passes defended, a forced fumble and 30 tackles in six games as a Steeler. To him, the smooth transition is no surprise. This Steelers defense under Keith Butler is made for a player like him.
"I think it's a system that just allows you to play fast, play how you want to play," Fitzpatrick was telling me at his locker inside the Rooney Complex after practice Thursday. "They don't put too much on you. They don't make you think too much. And it's predicated on playing fast. It's predicated on just executing and doing what we do so we can go out there and play ball, play fast."
Fitzpatrick does indeed play fast — super fast. During his pick-six against the Colts in Week 9, Fitzpatrick reached a top speed of 21.48 MPH, the fastest of any player in Week 9 action, per NFL's Next Gen Stats.
MINKAH FITZPATRICK: 96-YARD PICK 6!
— NFL (@NFL) November 3, 2019
Back in his first appearance as a Steeler in Week 3 against the 49ers, Fitzpatrick recorded an interception, a forced fumble and a pass defended, immediately proving why the Steelers invested a 2020 first- and fifth-round pick, plus a 2021 sixth-round pick to get him.
Despite that strong, splash-filled debut, Fitzpatrick says it wasn't all easy coming straight from Miami to the Steel City.
"It was tough at first, but obviously the more you practice at it and the more reps you get at it, the more comfortable you get," Fitzpatrick was telling me of digesting the Steelers' defensive scheme on short notice. "I'm good now, but at first — football's football — but learning the little differences and the little nuances that are different was challenging.
"But once I got out there, talked to all the players, talked to the coaches, we all worked hand-in-hand to make sure I learn the system and was comfortable."
Right there at the end is the kicker in it all. Once Fitzpatrick talked to the players and the coaches, he was able to not only learn the information he needed, but to understand this is a group committed to working together and providing support to one another every step of the way.
Throughout Steelers training camp and OTAs, we heard so much about the "chemistry" of this defense — and Fitzpatrick certainly felt it, too.
"Yeah, I felt that for sure," Fitzpatrick was telling me. "I think there's not a lot of ego in this locker room. There's a lot of places where you go and there's a whole lot of ego that kind of interferes with the camaraderie and just the overall well-being and morale of the team. I got here, and there's no ego. If there's any ego, they get checked quick and humbled quick. That's it."
In the end, though, Fitzpatrick says we don't need to dig too deep to understand what's working for him. When he said "football's football" earlier, he meant it. It really can be simplified to those terms. Sure, the Steelers emphasize turnovers and employ game plans and schemes to maximize the potential to get the ball back to its offense, but really:
"I think that's just defense in general," Fitzpatrick said. "You're always trying to create turnovers or get stops and stuff like that. When the opportunity arises and you can go get it, you go get it."
Fitzpatrick is getting it done thus far, and for him, the payoff couldn't be sweeter. He wanted out of a struggling Dolphins organization, and the Steelers paid the price to get it done. Now, having felt life in Miami, he's not taking his time here for granted.
"I was excited [to be here], just knowing the history and all the accomplishments that this program has achieved," Fitzpatrick said. "It's an awesome program and a great place to be."
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