PITTSBURGH -- Minkah Fitzpatrick left the Miami Dolphins, looking for a more stable home both on the field and within the league.
A developing Miami team didn't seem to interest the safety, so, the Dolphins shipped him to Pittsburgh for a first-round pick.
In 14 games with the Steelers, Fitzpatrick's impact turned the defense from allowing 30.5 points per game to only 17.3. His five interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble led to two defensive touchdowns on his part, creating a plus/minus of +18 since he joined in Week 3.
During a conference call with local Steelers media, Fitzpatrick admitted that opponents began to scheme around his position. Only getting to the football twice in the final seven games of the season, opposing offenses had one major goal when playing Pittsburgh - keep the ball away from Minkah.
"I think teams started to take less shots downfield or less shots where I was," Fitzpatrick said. "If I was in the half (field), there weren’t going to be targets in that area where I was. I don’t know if it was part of a gameplan or the makeup of the quarterback, but I did realize a difference."
Heading into 2020, the free safety is open to moving around to help prevent teams from finding ways to remove him from their gameplan.
Playing only free safety in 2019, his first full season with the Steelers could allow him to refocus on the rest of the field. Right now, it's something he's working on as he gets a more complicated playbook in year two.
"I think last year coming in at the time I did, I didn’t know the defense as well as I do now," Fitzpatrick said. "The coaches just wanted to keep it simple for me and they did. I appreciate that. Now, I would say, if the coaches want me to move around, I’ll move around. If they don’t, then I don’t need to. I wouldn’t say it’s a goal. If they need me to move around, I’m trying to learn the position and get it down to a T, so if they ask me to, I can move."
Working with Terrell Edmunds for an entire year could allow the scheme to adjust as the veterans grow. The Steelers' last All-Pro safety, Troy Polamalu, spent a lot of time lining up in different spots while running primarily the same defense.
Fitzpatrick could be the next player to disguise defensive sets, but how active he is in different positions will only be determined by his coaches.
"There’s not too much I can do," Fitzpatrick said. "Me and Terrell can move around and switch roles. Schematically, it’s all up to the coaches. If they want to move me somewhere else, they’ll do that. Or if they want me to do something I don’t normally do on a specific play or a specific down and distances, I’ll do it.
"It’s up to the coaches."
His overall feel doesn't trouble him, though. Fitzpatrick may be the target of most opposing offenses, but the talent within the entire group leaves plenty of hot spots for teams to worry about.
If for some reason Fitzpatrick can't find himself making a play, he's pretty confident one of his teammates will.
"I think we’re one of the best (defenses)," he said. "That was reflected with the way we played last season. We were top-three, top-five in almost every single category. Our talent level — a lot of guys have talent — but I think our execution level beside our talent level is what kind of sets us apart and is what will continue to set us apart."