Fitzpatrick seeks to become vocal leader for Steelers

Fitzpatrick seeks to become vocal leader for Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick let his on-field play do the talking during his first two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This year, the two-time All-Pro intends to be more of a vocal leader.

“I’m older now and it’s my fourth year,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think it’s time to start sharing my wisdom because I have a lot of experience.”

Pittsburgh sent a 2020 first-round pick to Miami a couple days after losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the 2019 season to an elbow injury. That helped secure the dynamic Fitzpatrick, a former Alabama standout, who was selected No. 11 overall in the 2018 draft.

Fitzpatrick was an immediate fit. The 24-year-old became the missing piece on the back end of a defense that has ranked among the top five in the league in each of the past two seasons.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is looking for more leadership from his star safety.

“(Tomlin), this offseason, he especially wanted me to be more vocal, not just on the field, but in the locker room and in the weight room,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m just trying to take that challenge. I’ve been a starter since the day I walked into the league, so I think I could impart a lot of my wisdom on younger guys, and even older guys.”

Fitzpatrick has nine interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles in less than two seasons with Pittsburgh.

Fitzpatrick’s four defensive touchdowns are tied with Baltimore’s Marcus Peters for the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2018, and his nine interceptions are tied for fourth in the NFL since 2019. His 16 combined interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries are tied for third in the league since 2019.

Fitzpatrick’s ability to find the ball and create momentum-changing plays is reminiscent of Steelers Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu, who retired in 2015.

“I don’t want to put that on Minkah,” Tomlin said. “I’m not even starting that discussion. Minkah’s a really good, emerging player. His resume reads that way, but I’m not getting into that.”

Fitzpatrick’s five interceptions in 2019 were the most by a Steeler in a single season since Polamalu had seven in 2010. Fitzpatrick appreciates the comparison and understands the weight the safety position holds within the organization, particularly after Polamalu and four-time Super Bowl champion Donnie Shell were both enshrined in the Hall of Fame this past weekend.

“They’re both great players,” Fitzpatrick said. “I remember watching Troy play all the time. He’s a guy everybody wanted to be like growing up. It’s definitely awesome for them and inspiring to me.”

The Steelers have frequently put Fitzpatrick at deep safety and he doesn’t expect anything different this season. Fitzpatrick focused on details throughout the offseason, particularly his footwork.

“The more details you understand and master about this game, the better you get,” Fitzpatrick said. “Angles are extremely important when you’re coming out of the middle of the field, and you can make a lot more plays. It can go from a tackle to an interception if your feet are good or great.”

Still, Fitzpatrick is comfortable with his on-field abilities.

“I’m very confident in what I do,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think I prepare well and handle myself like a professional. A lot of young guys come to me, ask me questions and pick my brain. I have the responsibility to talk to them, fill them in and take them under my wing.”

NOTES: Tomlin said Mason Rudolph will start at quarterback for the team’s second preseason game Thursday at Philadelphia, followed by Dwayne Haskins and Josh Dobbs. ... Tomlin also indicated that he’s not concerned about LB T.J. Watt’s lack of participation during training camp. Watt, a two-time All-Pro, has been on the field doing individual work, but he hasn’t practiced with his teammates because he has yet to sign a long-term contract. ... The Steelers practiced for about a half-hour on Tuesday because of inclement weather.

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