Steelers' Edmunds to Test Hybrid Role, Fitzpatrick's Expectations Growing
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers defense finished the 2019 season as one of the NFL's best. This year, with another year under Minkah Fitzpatrick's belt and some changes to the personnel, defensive coordinator Keith Butler is looking to see even more progression.
It starts with Fitzpatrick. When talking to media last week, the first player Butler mentioned was his safety.
In 2019, Fitzpatrick produced seven turnovers for the Steelers and is looking to do even more in 2020. Butler said that with a year in the system, the progress of this team starts with the All-Pro.
"I think he is a very smart young man," Butler said on Fitzpatrick's expectations. "Many of us are smart in different things and some things we are not. But he is very football savvy. He has been around for a little while. Of course, he went and played at Alabama. They did a good job with him down there. He came to play for us, and we tried to limit the amount that we put him with in the first couple weeks we had him and then we realized he could handle a lot more than we were giving him at times. He did a good job for us there and even more so this year we think he can help us quite a bit. Obviously, we think he is a top tier guy in the League and if he could continue to get better, which we think he can, it should make us a little better."
Butler is also focusing on his other safety. Terrell Edmunds is entering his third year in the NFL and has made strides as a starter.
One question that continues to be raised is whether or not the Steelers will use Edmunds to fill the hybrid linebacker role they've attempted to utilize in years past.
After releasing Mark Barron, the linebackers on the roster don't fit the safety-back role as much as the safeties do. Therefore, the team is going to see who plays the position best once pads are on.
"Well, we have kicked a lot of things around right now going into the season and coming out of last season," Butler said, "looking at our cut ups and trying to decide what is going to make us better or who could make us better, where we put them and help us to be better. There are several different options we feel like we have. We want to see them in pads and see them when they get out here and running around a little bit. Right now, we are not full speed in any way, shape or manner.
"Now, we are trying to get them in shape and get them ready to go full speed, then geared up when we get there in pads and see what they can do. Obviously, what a couple of the guys can do and where they are going to help us at. We are going to try to move around a little bit and see what is best for us. I think we had a pretty good defense last year."
When it's all said and down, the Steelers defense is going to improve because of the man playing center field. As he enters his third NFL season and second year in Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick's expectations only seem to get higher over time.
"Hopefully, we will be better wholly than last year," Butler said. "Minkah [Fitzpatrick] has been here for a year now. He'll know the defense in and out. The guys have played together a little bit, so it gives us a chance to be pretty good, I hope. We will see when the season starts. You know, this is a new thing for everybody in the league, what's going on right now. We're all trying to take advantage of what we can do best, get our guys going so that they'll be comfortable with what we are doing."