More than 45 minutes after practice ended on a sweltering August day at Saint Vincent College, Minkah Fitzpatrick was still on the field.
The on-field portion of that day’s training camp was over, but the Pittsburgh Steelers safety still had work to do. Methodically, he worked with a staffer catching dozens of balls from every angle.
“[Defensive backs] coach Grady Brown, he says it all the time, ‘We are receivers as DBs. We have to have a 100% catch rate, but we catch almost 100% less passes than what the receiver catches,” Fitzpatrick said, sweat dripping as he caught his breath.
“It's important to get as many catches as the receiver does, whether it be straight on or distracted or the two at once. I think it’s important to get your hands used to securing the ball.”
Over his shoulder, from his left, from his right, over and over until he was satisfied with the reps.
But Fitzpatrick is rarely satisfied. It’s what keeps him returning to the football field and the Steelers’ practice facility every day, arriving early and leaving late. It’s what makes him the kind of leader the Steelers need in the wake of the T.J. Watt pectoral injury that threatens their season.
For the Steelers to survive at least a monthlong stretch without Watt -- including Thursday night’s game against the Cleveland Browns (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video) -- Fitzpatrick will have to be a focal point as a leader and a ball hawk, creating the kind of splash plays to infuse the defense with contagious energy.
“Minkah is a serious competitor,” coach Mike Tomlin said during training camp. “... He always wants in. He wants to cover receivers. He wants to tackle running backs. He wants to blitz. He’s a football player. He’s a guy that loves football. He’s a guy that loves competition, and boy, he’s just really a good guy to have in an environment like this because there’s never a down day with him. He’s always about it. He’s always ready to work.”