Minkah Fitzpatrick has returned to his accustomed role as the Steelers seek to make a significant impact.

During the 2023 season, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick set new career highs in several specific statistical categories. He averaged 12.2 snaps per game aligning in the box, a significant increase from his previous high of 7.7 in 2022. He also lined up in coverage in the slot for 8.0 snaps per game, up from 5.13 in 2020. Additionally, he rushed the passer 1.7 times per game, compared to 0.7 in 2022, indicating a role closer to the line of scrimmage.

However, despite these increased responsibilities, Fitzpatrick did not record any takeaways—no interceptions, forced fumbles, or fumble recoveries. This was a disappointment for a player who had earned three first-team All-Pro selections in previous seasons, primarily due to his ability to create turnovers, amassing 19 interceptions, four forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries in six seasons prior to 2023. It marked the first time he had failed to force at least two turnovers in a season.

Reflecting on the season, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin acknowledged that the expanded role likely contributed to the absence of turnovers. Austin expressed a commitment to refining the team’s strategy to maximize Fitzpatrick’s effectiveness, recognizing that simplifying his responsibilities could enhance his performance.

Fitzpatrick’s versatility has been both an asset and a challenge throughout his NFL career. Initially drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 2018, he was deployed in multiple positions—strong safety, free safety, outside corner, nickel corner, weakside linebacker, and strongside linebacker—which led to frustration and eventually a trade to Pittsburgh in 2019.

Last season, injuries and scheme adjustments required Fitzpatrick to once again handle diverse defensive roles, particularly after the loss of teammate Keanu Neal and his own seven-game absence due to injury. Despite his capability in various positions, Austin emphasized the importance of positioning Fitzpatrick deeper in coverage, where he excels at reading plays and reacting swiftly.

Looking ahead, the Steelers have adjusted their defensive roster to better support Fitzpatrick. They acquired DeShon Elliott, a strong safety known for his physical play and coverage skills against larger tight ends, responsibilities that previously fell to Fitzpatrick. Additionally, the return of Cameron Sutton, despite off-field controversy, provides continuity and depth in the secondary, potentially solidifying the defense.

With additions like free-agent linebacker Patrick Queen and rookie Payton Wilson expected to bolster coverage and pressure on quarterbacks, Fitzpatrick remains optimistic about the team’s defensive capabilities. He believes the Steelers have the talent and experience necessary to excel, provided they optimize player roles and defensive strategies effectively.