PITTSBURGH — Minkah Fitzpatrick suffered an injury a mere 24 hours before the Steelers took the field against the New Orleans Saints. It was reported that Fitzpatrick was treated for appendicitis. That thrust the Steelers’ defense into flux, but it especially changed the way that Damontae Kazee would play in his first start with the Steelers.
Kazee, who was activated off injured reserve on Thursday, prepared to play as the down man in the Steelers’ big nickel package. Then, hours after Kazee had just practiced with Fitzpatrick during the team walkthrough, he received a call from his cousin asking what had happened to Fitzpatrick. It turns out that Kazee thought it was all a joke, but Terrell Edmunds confirmed to him that the situation was very real.
“Man, it was just so surprising,” Kazee said. “We had a great week of practice, a great walkthrough, and then it’s like just like, boom, Kazee, you’re starting. I was studying something else. But now I just have to go back to what I know, But I have practice with it.”
On a less serious note, Cam Heyward joked around about the situation. Fitzpatrick showed some discomfort during the walkthrough, but to Heyward, it was nothing out of the ordinary because of Fitzpatrick’s attitude. He is mellow and to a certain extent, ‘grumpy’ on a minute-to-minute basis.
“We saw him during the walk-through. And not thinking anything,” Heyward said. “Minkah’s just, you know, Minkah’s grumpy all the time so didn’t think anything of it. But, you know, after seeing it come across my phone and, you know, checking in on him, you know, Mike T[omlin] explained to us. He was, like, first things first, you’ve got to take care of the player. We got to make sure we take care of our business while Minkah’s out.”
Somehow, less than 24 hours after surgery, Fitzpatrick was still out on the field with his team. It allowed Fitzpatrick to help coach Kazee and the Steelers’ defense from the sideline. And it was some of those useful pointers that the defense used to propel themselves to a dominant performance in the return of T.J. Watt.
“Mink, he was on the sideline coaching us up,” Kazee said. “He gave me some advice on what to do here and there. This guy was a huge help.”
For now, that will have to be the role Minkah Fitzpatrick takes on. But the sooner he can return, the better the Steelers’ defense could potentially be moving forward. Pittsburgh will be looking to continue that with Joe Burrow and the Bengals coming to town in a week.