The amount of speculation surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason has typically been based around the offense. Questions abound with things like Kenny Pickett’s second year, the new additions to the offensive line and if Matt Canada can be the man to lead this group to new heights.
But there is equal, yet less discussed, speculation on the defensive side of the football. The Steelers lost mainstays like Cam Sutton and Terrell Edmunds, both to the secondary which led the NFL in interceptions in 2022.
With such turnover in the secondary, even an All-Pro like Minkah Fitzpatrick knew it would take time to gel with the new players being added. Players like Keanu Neal, Patrick Peterson and the new inside linebackers certainly will take patience, and time, to develop into a cohesive unit. Luckily for the fan base, Fitzpatrick’s recent analysis of the defense is that they are making serious progress. In fact, the unit is ahead of where he thought he’d be heading into this offseason.
“It’s been good,” said Fitzpatrick. “A lot of the guys that we brought in have a lot of experience. A lot of the guys we brought in are ballhawks. Now it’s just finding that chemistry. Learning how each other communicates. Learning how each other sees the game. I think we are doing a really good job.
“I think we are ahead of the game. We are definitely ahead of where I thought we would be, which is exciting. So just keep working and continue it into Latrobe.”
While they are ahead of where Fitzpatrick thought they’d be heading into the season, he also realizes there is still work to be done.
“We’re ahead of where I thought we would be,” said Fitzpatrick. “There are a lot of new faces in the secondary, a lot of new faces on the defense. When you have new faces, there is a lot to learn. I think because a lot of the new faces we brought in are experienced players, guys that played high level football, that is why I think we are head of where I thought we would be.”
One of the newer faces on the defense was a player who was limited to a part-time role in 2022, mainly due to injury, but will have an increased role in 2023. That would be Damontae Kazee. Fitzpatrick sees the trio of himself, Kazee and Neal as having some tremendous potential.
“We got a nice rotation, like we did last year with myself, Terrell and Kazee,” said Fitzpatrick. “Now it’s Keanu instead of Terrell. We’re still figuring out what it looks like. It’s going to be a little different, but not too much. (Keanu) is a big guy, but he moves really well. He is a physical guy. When you are a big guy who can move, it’s definitely a plus.”
While not a safety, Fitzpatrick has been cognizant of another defensive back who might be able to teach him a thing or two in the back end of the secondary. If you haven’t figured it out yet, that would be none other than Patrick Peterson.
“He brings a high IQ,” said Fitzpatrick. “He brings the ability for guys to be able to move and not just be stagnant. Me and him are already talking about high level stuff and coaches have to say bring it down a little bit. That is really cool. It’s an honor to play with a guy like him.
“I think it’s great. I think we have a perfect balance of vets and younger guys. I think when you have that combination, the vets that set the standard and the young guys that bring the energy, the juice every day. It’s a great combination and I think we are ahead of where I thought we would be.”
While there is still work to be done, and most would assume the Steelers defense is a work-in-progress, the thought of what it could become is certainly tantalizing. Fitzpatrick absolutely will be the straw which stirs the secondary’s drink. But then again, what else is new.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the NFL offseason.