Kevin Gorman: Minkah Fitzpatrick should have significant impact on Steelers secondary |
Kevin Gorman, Columnist

Kevin Gorman: Minkah Fitzpatrick should have significant impact on Steelers secondary

Kevin Gorman
New Steelers defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick had 80 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions as a rookie with the Dolphins.

Not long ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers trading a future first-round draft pick for a free safety on the same day they lost their franchise quarterback to season-ending surgery would have seemed like a case of misplaced priorities.

Seriously, who would have ever imagined the day would come when the Steelers would be more concerned with the severity of Sean Davis’ shoulder injury than replacing Ben Roethlisberger?

The Steelers are taking a great risk by showing so much confidence in quarterback Mason Rudolph after only one half of an NFL game, but there is potential for a resounding reward in acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The Steelers are 0-2 not so much because of the play of Roethlisberger — or even Rudolph — but rather a defense that had no answers as Tom Brady and Russell Wilson completed a combined 75% of their passes for 641 yards and six touchdowns without an interception.

The Steelers couldn’t contend for the playoffs without a defensive upgrade, especially in a pass-oriented AFC North that saw 300-yard passing performances from Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield through the first two weeks.

“It is our job to keep this train rolling,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “If anything, from a competitive standpoint, it energizes me and us. We’re excited about balling up our fists and fighting and fighting together.”

If the Steelers have any hopes of salvaging this season and making a playoff push — and the jobs of general manager Kevin Colbert and Tomlin might depend on it — trading for a standout safety was their best short-term solution.

I’ll say this: It’s infinitely better for the Steelers to add Minkah Fitzpatrick rather than Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When the Steelers won Super Bowls, it was with a star quarterback and the NFL’s top defense. They’ve had only one of those the past few years, and Big Ben couldn’t carry the Steelers even with All-Pros Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

Now, the Steelers have no choice but to build around the defense. The safety play this season has been, to put it in Tomlin terms, at a junior-varsity level. Second-year strong safety Terrell Edmunds is coming off an awful game against Seattle where he whiffed on a tackle, was called for a critical pass interference penalty and gave up the game-clinching touchdown.

Still, Tomlin was adamant the Steelers traded for Fitzpatrick more so because Davis’ shoulder injury forced the fourth-year safety to be placed on injured reserve.

“All of us share those levels of concerns in today’s NFL, but Sean’s injury was significant,” Tomlin said, emphasizing each syllable of the last word, “in terms of making the move that we did, and I’d be less than genuine if I said otherwise.”

Even more sig-nif-i-cant is the immediate impact the 22-year-old Fitzpatrick could provide the Steelers secondary. The 6-foot-1, 207-pounder was the No. 11 overall pick last year — Tomlin called it a “pipe dream” to draft the playmaker — and had 80 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions as a rookie.

No wonder Tomlin named Fitzpatrick the starter at free safety for Sunday’s game at the San Francisco 49ers before he ever took a practice snap with the Steelers.

Tomlin noted the allure of Fitzpatrick is his ability to play a “myriad” of positions, from slot cornerback and outside cornerback and both safety spots to dime linebacker. That the Dolphins had Fitzpatrick do all of the above is what prompted his trade request.

No worries there, as Fitzpatrick will be paired at safety with fellow 2018 first-rounder Edmunds on a defense built around 10 former first-round picks, including a young core that includes linebackers Devin Bush and T.J. Watt.

“That’s exciting,” Tomlin said, “thinking about those guys having an opportunity to play together as soon as this weekend but, big-picture, to grow together systematically.”

But, small-picture, the Steelers need them to grow together quickly. And they need Fitzpatrick to make an immediate impact — and a significant one at that.

Hey, Steelers Nation, get the latest news about the Pittsburgh Steelers here.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.