It’s not looking good for the status of Pittsburgh Steelers safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Keanu Neal and their availability to play in this Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
Fitzpatrick and Neal both missed the first two practice sessions of the week, and were not doing drills with the rest of the safeties during the early portion of the team’s practice on Friday.
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said both players were trending toward being game-time decisions on Sunday, when the Steelers will travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns.
But practice squad safety Trenton Thompson said on Thursday that he was told to be ready to start, and it’s looking more and more likely that will happen, with Damontae Kazee filling Fitzpatrick’s role at free safety and Thompson stepping in at strong safety.
Fitzpatrick has been out since suffering a hamstring injury against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 29. He missed the Tennessee Titans game the following week on Thursday Night Football, but there was some hope he might return for Week 10 against the Green Bay Packers. Not only did that not materialize, it’s looking like he may miss this week’s game in Cleveland, as well.
Neal was injured in the fourth quarter against the Packers, when he landed on the football when he was tackled after his interception. The Steelers say he has a rib injury, and his status going forward is unknown. If his rib is broken, he will likely miss several weeks.
Thompson, 25, joined the Steelers in training camp after a number of injuries at the safety position and got plenty of playing time throughout camp and the preseason, but played his first game with the team in Week 10, when he was called up from the practice squad to replace Fitzpatrick on the active roster.
Thompson played seven snaps of defense against the Packers. One of the Steelers’ three San Diego State alumni, Thompson and Kazee played together with the Aztecs in 2016 and now appear set to be the Steelers’ starting safety tandem against the Browns.