In his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin took questions from the media after discussing injuries, the team’s win over the Dolphins on Monday night, and outlining their opponent for the upcoming game. Among the questions were a couple centered around the Steelers new additions in the defensive secondary for the 2019 season. Coach Tomlin was asked if he was surprised with Minkah Fitzpatrick’s successes in the defense and what he’s been able to do.
“Not really,” Tomlin answered. “Like I said man, we were so enamored with him in the draft process. We really felt like we understood not only his talent level, but his approach, his football character. Couple that with Karl Dunbar, our defensive line coach, who was the defensive line coach at Bama when he was there. So, we had someone around him that just watched his day-to-day approach. There were very little unknowns about him from that stand point.”
Selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Miami Dolphins, it was a longshot for the Steelers to land Fitzpatrick in the draft. But in doing their due diligence, the Steelers were familiar enough to pull the trigger after Week 2 of 2019 to make the trade to bring in the safety from Alabama. Although they gave up their 2020 first-round draft pick, the Steelers believe Fitzpatrick will pay more dividends than whatever selection they could have made. And based on his performance in his four games, Fitzpatrick’s play has backed up this claim.
Tomlin went on to explain that while Fitzpatrick’s production has been highly welcomed, they are still hoping for improvement.
“So, we’re not surprised by what we’re getting, and hopefully it not only continues, but it improves as he gets his feet on the ground and gets a sense of not only what he’s doing, but how it fits into the big picture of things.”
The other new piece to the Steelers’ secondary in 2019 is cornerback Steven Nelson. Signed as a free agent after his first four years playing with the Kansas City Chiefs, Nelson has been more productive than most Steelers’ fans expected. Coach Tomlin was asked about how much has Nelson’s play influences what the Steelers do defensively.
“You know, like Minkah, he’s just a low maintenance, low key, really high floor professional. The performances that we get from him week in and week out are really consistent.”
So far in 2018, Nelson hasn’t had his name called very often. When it comes to playing outside cornerback, this is usually a good thing as teams have been avoiding throwing the ball in his direction.
“He does a good job of staying close to his guy to be quite honest with you,” Tomlin continued. “So he’s not targeted a lot. All those things bode well for him and for us, and we like the overall trajectory of his play.”
On the season, Nelson has two passes defensed, a fumble recovery, and 22 combined tackles. Since Fitzpatrick has joined the Steelers, he has three interceptions, five passes defensed, a forced fumble, and 23 combined tackles. With Nelson shutting down one side of the field and Fitzpatrick taking care of things on the deep end, teams are finding Joe Haden is the only other option to attack the Steelers in the passing game. And with Haden being one of the Steelers best secondary weapons in 2018, the defensive backfield is quickly becoming one of the strengths of the team.