The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense lost some talent this past offseason. Players to the point where you could question whether the unit will be better as a whole. Gone is Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, those last two names putting a dent in a once strong Steelers’ secondary.
Even though there are new players in new positions, the expectations for All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick do not change. Fitzpatrick spoke to the media Tuesday after Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and talked specifically about how it isn’t about who is out there, but overall execution of the plays.
“Something that we did well last year was our overall execution, but at the same time it was something we could have worked on toward the later part of the year,” Fitzpatrick told reporters. “No matter who is out there, as long as we execute and play at a high level, we will be good. If it’s young guys, if it’s old guys, if it’s new guys, as long as we go out there and are on the same page, it’s hard to beat us. We are all athletes. We can all cover, we can all jump, we can all catch. The only way teams can really beat themselves in the league is they don’t execute.”
When pressed on the topic, with players like Cam Sutton, Justin Layne and James Pierre possibly stepping into larger roles in 2021, Fitzpatrick did not flinch.
“It’s the overall execution,” said Fitzpatrick. “It doesn’t matter who is out there, they’re going to have to execute our game plan. We have a simple game plan. It works. We just have to go out there and play hard.”
Fitzpatrick, who just had his 5th year option exercised by the Steelers, is still considered a young player, but he is ready to step up into a leadership role in 2021. It isn’t as if the Steelers are in desperate need of leaders on defense, but Fitzpatrick absolutely could be a player who would have others follow his work ethic and play on the field.
“I would say for me, we’re a younger team this year, a newer team, so just stepping up leadership, being more vocal, pulling guys, making them do extra whether it be film or today after practice doing extra, going that extra mile,” said Fitzpatrick. “Also, for me personally, mastering the fundamentals of this game. That’s what makes great players great and elite players elite. The people who master the fundamentals and don’t stray away from it. What coach said today, the things that make you a great college player are the same things that make you a great NFL player. Guys stop doing it because they get complacent, they get tired. That is what really separates the great from the elite. Just continue to work on those fundamentals.”
This offseason, maybe more than most, Fitzpatrick realizes this starts in OTAs. It starts with the fundamentals, team building and putting the foundation together for what is hopefully a championship season.
“Just the fundamentals of how we play, just establishing that as a team,” said Fitzpatrick of why OTAs are important. “This season there are a lot of new faces. When you come out here early you get to set the tone of this is the standard of this is how we operate, how we communicate. From the point where we step in the door even to when we go out to dinner at night, this is how we operate. It’s good to have us in the building.”
Will the work pay off? Will Fitzpatrick become the vocal leader he wants to become? Only time will tell, but if there is a player on the Steelers’ defense who can step up and become more of a leader, it would be Fitzpatrick. Hopefully it pays dividends by way of victories, a playoff berth and a long playoff run.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the rest of the offseason, and the 2021 regular season.