Miami Dolphins

A close look at Minkah Fitzpatrick’s role, and why he wasn’t set up to succeed in ’18

Miami Dolphins DB Minkah Fitzpatrick personal goals are to be great and loyal.

Miami Dolphins DB Minkah Fitzpatrick personal goals are to be great and loyal in his rookie year with the Miami Dolphins.
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Miami Dolphins DB Minkah Fitzpatrick personal goals are to be great and loyal in his rookie year with the Miami Dolphins.

A quick rundown of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s Wednesday practice:

He made an excellent break on a ball thrown by Josh Rosen, recording the only interception of the day thrown by either of the Dolphins’ top two quarterbacks.

He lined up at an important position on special teams (Dolphins offseason media rules prohibit us from saying anything more than that).

And he handled so many spots on defense that he took snaps with the first and second teams.

In fact, it’s easier to tell you where Fitzpatrick didn’t played Wednesday than where he did.

“I didn’t play any free safety,” Fitzpatrick said. “I played strong. I lined up inside, I lined up outside. I lined up in the box.”

In layman’s terms: Fitzpatrick was (and is) a safety, a corner and a linebacker — all during a two-hour sweat session under the hot South Florida sun.

So Dolphins coach Brian Flores wasn’t kidding when he told reporters a few weeks back, “I’ll know what he’s doing. You guys probably won’t.”

The important thing is that Fitzpatrick knows what he’s doing.

And that wasn’t always the case in 2018 — at least on a day-to-day, and sometimes down-to-down, basis.

Fitzpatrick was on the field for 944 snaps last year, second-most on the team behind Kiko Alonso.

He was the Dolphins’ slot cornerback 40 percent of the time, the boundary corner 30 percent, free safety 17 percent and strong safety 3 percent.

Those numbers come courtesy of Pro Football Focus, which found that he was most effective in the slot.

Injuries and personnel redundancies didn’t allow him to work there all the time, and probably won’t again this season.

Fitzpatrick told the Miami Herald at the end of last season that he wanted to know by February which position he would play in 2019 so he could prepare properly.

The answer he got back was, in essence, all of them.

And that’s OK, Fitzpatrick explained in a way Wednesday that wasn’t altogether flattering of the previous coaching staff.

“I wanted a position to focus on,” he said. “Last year, I couldn’t. I was playing multiple roles when I was at [Alabama], but I knew what I was going to be doing week to week. Last year, it was kind of all over the place. It was sporadic. It would change up halfway through the week. Some of it was because of injuries and some of it was because they didn’t know where to put me.”

He continued: “This year, I know where I’m going to be at. I know exactly what positions I need to learn, what concepts I need to learn. And I’m just more comfortable. I wasn’t saying that I just wanted to learn just strong safety or corner. I wanted there to be a game plan so I could prepare the right way. Last year I couldn’t prepare the right way, because I didn’t know what I was doing. You could say I could study the whole defense, but you can’t do that.”

Flores said a few weeks back that Fitzpatrick — arguably the Dolphins’ second-best defensive player behind Xavien Howard — has done “an OK job” of learning those positions.

And the coaching staff is even more blunt behind closed doors.

“They keep it real, for sure,” Fitzpatrick said.

An example: When the former first-round pick reported to work Monday, he sat down with defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to review his practice tape.

Most specifically, they went through a cut-up of Fitzpatrick’s bad plays.

“He was telling me, ‘This is what you need to focus on. This is what you need to do. This is what you need to get better,’” Fitzpatrick recalled. “Then they showed me some of the good plays. Some of the things that I was doing well. Some of the things I’ve improved on. It really helped me. Because it’s humbling. They’re not going to lie to you. I love and appreciate it, because great coaches are not going to lie to players. I think it’s definitely good that they coach us like that.”

So when does a 202-pound defensive back line up as a linebacker? Surprisingly, it’s not in passing situations, but running, Fitzpatrick said.

He at times will play in the box when the Dolphins load up in a heavy package (think short-yardage situations).

But the biggest mystery will be where he lines up when the Dolphins use five or more defensive backs.

Which is why Fitzpatrick had no problem running with the backups at times Thursday, even if was just for a few snaps.

“That’s what it is in this league,” he said. “Everything you, you have to earn. I might work with the ones one day, I might work with the twos one day. We’ve got two, three great safeties and we’re all competing for playing time. The coaches know what to do. Like you see, we’re all out there on the field. Sometimes, we have eight DBs. We’re all going to be out there. We’re all going to be making plays.”

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