The Steelers made a massive investment to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick back in 2019 and another one to secure his continued services this week.
Their continued commitment is one Fitzpatrick believes will appreciate.
“I’m still learning, still growing,” he insisted after signing a reported four-year, $73.6 million contract extension on Wednesday.
Fitzpatrick was a little more than a year removed from being the 11th overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft when the Steelers stepped far out of character and opted to part with a first-round pick to land Fitzpatrick in September of 2019.
He’s convinced he’s come a long way since coming to Pittsburgh from Miami.
“I think I’m a whole lot more just aware of the player that I am,” Fitzpatrick maintained “I know my strengths. I know my weaknesses. I think at that time I was still finding out who I was. I didn’t even play the position that I got traded for until I got to Pittsburgh. I didn’t really play any free safety until I got here. I was still learning, still developing, still learning the defense as I was playing, so I never got to really solidify and find out my identity as a player.
“I think right now I know who I am. I’ve really found a good routine in my study, in my tape. I know who I am as a player. I know my strengths. I know my weaknesses. I know what I need to get better at and really focus on.”
Fitzpatrick will do so as “an athletic guy, a versatile guy, a guy that uses his IQ along with the athleticism and versatility,” he continued. “That makes me a very instinctive player, and that comes from being prepared, being a good athlete, being a guy that loves the game.
“If you ask anybody about me on the team, they’ll say I’m a passionate guy and I love what I do. I think that just trickles over into every single area of how I play the game. I’m an athlete, I’m smart and I love the game, that’s who I am.”
His status in the locker room was that of a “superstar” (fellow safety Terrell Edmunds’ characterization) and a team leader, along with Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt, before the contract extension.
In the immediate aftermath of the validation that accompanied his pay day, Fitzpatrick led by taking the defense to task.
“Last year we were getting beat on our own mistakes,” he assessed. “We were doing things that we normally didn’t do, lack of details, and I think that came from just a lack of preparation. We didn’t take our preparation as seriously as we should.”
Fitzpatrick took steps to correct that even as a partial participant in OTAs and Mandatory Veteran Minicamp while awaiting the details of his new deal to be finalized.
That’s also been an emphasis from a revamped coaching staff that now includes Teryl Austin as the new defensive coordinator and former Miami head coach Brian Flores on board as a senior defensive assistant.
“Even where we’re at now is light years ahead of where we were at this time last year just in the sense of the seriousness in which we’re approaching the details of the game,” Fitzpatrick
contended. “Guys know that we’re aware of how much we lacked it. We’re also aware of how much we need to focus on it.
“Some things in the day-to-day are gonna change, or have changed in a good way. When we’re on the field doing walk-through it’s not so lackadaisical any more. We’re all locked in, dialed in, everybody’s pointing, everybody’s communicating, and if something’s out of line it’s getting corrected. It’s not just kinda getting pushed to the side or saved for later. At that moment it’s getting addressed, it’s getting pointed out.
“Having guys that are willing to do that and hold the players accountable, even though we hold each other accountable, as well, is definitely beneficial.”
And well worth the investment.