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Minkah Fitzpatrick unhappy with singular role for Steelers

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you have heard this before: Minkah Fitzpatrick is unhappy with how he is being used. Seems familiar does it not? Except, this time, it seems to be the exact opposite of the issues he had with the Miami Dolphins. Fitzpatrick, now a Pro Bowl player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, complained about being misused by the Dolphins, who were looking to create mismatches and play him all across the field, and is now complaining that he is stuck playing only as a free safety with the Steelers.

Fitzpatrick wanted out of Miami because they were looking to change his role week to week. They were asking him to play free safety, strong safety, nickel cornerback, and field/boundary cornerback. They wanted him in zone and man coverage, and they wanted to use his versatility to create mismatches, prevent him from being the player that cannot make a play in a critical moment, and not allow quarterbacks to stay away from one of the most talented players on the field.

Fitzpatrick did not like it.

He wanted to be used where he felt he fit best. He wanted to be a free safety. He was being misused by the Dolphins, something even his mother declared on Twitter, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Omar Kelly remarked that Fitzpatrick was not playing well during an August practice, leading to Fitzpatrick’s mom, Melissa, responding on Twitter.

Asked about his mother’s tweet after the practice, Fitzpatrick agreed with the assessment. “It is what it is,” he said, according to the Miami Herald’s Adam Beasley. “She’s being honest and saying how she feels. There’s nothing wrong with it. I wish she would have addressed me first and talked to me first before it happens, but it is what it is. She feels very strongly. She’s not wrong. Coach has asked me do something right now. I got to do what they ask me to do. If we have to have some discussions in the future, we’ll have those discussions.”

Those discussions, after Miami started the season 0-2 with blowout losses to the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots, ultimately led to Fitzpatrick talking his way out of Miami. The Dolphins moved him to Pittsburgh in exchange for a first round draft pick, a selection that landed at 18 after Pittsburgh’s 8-8 season.

Fitzpatrick was installed as the Steelers’ starting free safety, and everything was great for the first seven games, when he recorded five interceptions and 34 tackles. “I am comfortable on the field. [They] just allowed me to play fast and do what I do. That is the thing I like about here — we run what we run, and we run it well. We don’t try to do too much, don’t try to change it up week to week.”

The Steelers were 5-2 in those seven games, including a 27-14 win over the Dolphins.

Fitzpatrick liked it.

Over the final seven weeks of the season, Fitzpatrick had no interceptions and 23 tackles. The Steelers were 3-4 over the final seven games - coincidentally the exact same record as Miami over that span - and ended the season on a three-game losing streak.

I don’t want to see that drop-off,” Fitzpatrick told ESPN’s Brooke Pryor last week at the Super Bowl. Quarterbacks were staying away from him as the Steelers played him solely as the deep safety, limiting his ability to read, react, and make plays.

“I wanted to continue to have that impact on my team and have that impact on games,” Fitzpatrick explained. “Because it’s no fun when you’re in a critical moment and you can’t do nothing about it.

“When you move around and you’re a moving piece on the chessboard, it’s hard to defend and you can’t just say, ‘All right, the quarterback is going to look at me and say he’s going to be in this spot every snap,’ like I was last year. It’s going to be harder and it’s going to be more difficult to take me out of the game.”

That is a far cry from Fitzpatrick’s comments in October, when he was a ball-hawk, picking off passes with regularity and making plays as a pure free safety. Suddenly, Fitzpatrick wants to play multiple roles on the defense. He wants to move around. He wants the Steelers to line him up in ways that keeps defenses guessing.

In other words, he wants a role similar to how Miami would have been using him.