Armando Salguero

The plan for the Dolphins’ Minkah Fitzpatrick — and why it might just work

Miami Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick talks with a coach during Friday’s practice.
Miami Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick talks with a coach during Friday’s practice. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Minkah Fitzpatrick signed his Miami Dolphins rookie contract the afternoon of June 1 and that guaranteed him some $16.4 million for his work through 2021. So, being 21 years old, newly wealthy, and boasting a physique every bit as chiseled as the statue of David, there was celebrating to be done that evening.

Think of the Minkah Fitzpatrick celebration involving a limousine, multiple expensive bottles of champagne, and of course, beautiful company. The party on South Beach went well past sunrise the next day.

“They told you very wrong,” Fitzpatrick said through a big smile after Friday’s morning practice.

Yeah, just kidding.

After he signed his life-changing contract Fitzpatrick had no huge party of any kind. He instead got immediately to work trying to become a hybrid player for his new team.

“I finished up running around 3 in the afternoon,” Fitzpatrick said. “I went home for a little bit. I came back around 7. And I was here from about 7 to 11 at night, watching film. Then I got in the ice and cold tub, worked out, and took a little jog. I just loosened up.”

Fitzpatrick was spotted lifting in the Dolphins weight room at 11:30 p.m. He was seen there by the last coach leaving the building that night.

And, no, he didn’t rally to any party after hours.

“[The contract] improved my life and my family’s life,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s a good opportunity. But, you know, there’s a whole lot more where that came from. I don’t want to be satisfied with just that.

“I don’t want to come into the league and just be a first-rounder. I want to come into the league and be a great player and a dominant name in the game.”

And Fitzpatrick knows that will take work.

“I just got right back to work,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was happy I signed but I got to go past that ... I want to keep going. Just got to keep going.”

Fitzpatrick has kept going in that he approaches every day much like he did that milestone day when he signed his deal.

His typical day begins at 6:20 a.m. and by the time he steps through the doors at Dolphins camp around 6:40 he’s ready to do work that will last well until 9:30 and sometimes 9:45 that night — long after other players have left the building.

“After we finish up our last meeting or walk-thru, I’ll go get an ice tub and hot tub again [for the second time that day]. I’ll stretch, roll out, and then watch film by myself — whether it be practice or stuff for our first preseason game,” Fitzpatrick said.

“I’ll break [film] down or I’ll go upstairs and meet with one of the coaches. After that, go home, I’ll watch more film, get in bed, and that’s it. Start over the next day.”

Freaks such as Zach Thomas once set similar regimens, studying opponents, honing his craft well into the late night hours. But Thomas was a fifth-round draft pick who was undersized and felt the need to overcome his pedigree and physical shortcomings with amazing work ethic.

Fitzpatrick is a first-round pick with no obvious physical shortcomings. His motivation for working so hard is he understands his assignment. And he understands normal preparation is not going to serve him well enough to carry out the job.

“I’m not trying to be normal. I’m in an abnormal situation,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s not a whole lot of people that can say they move around and play so many positions. In the NFL secondary, there’s not a lot of people that can do what I do, honestly. So I have to work. I have to put in the extra work. There’s a reason why I can do what I can do.

“I’m not trying to be normal. I’m trying to be different.”

It’s different that the Dolphins have a big plans for making Fitzpatrick something of a hybrid. It’s different that they’re doing this knowing Fitzpatrick has never played an NFL game.

And yet during a typical training camp practice the past two weeks, Fitzpatrick will play free safety.

And strong safety.

And nickel cornerback in the slot.

And even a little outside cornerback in some walk-thru practices the team does in the evenings when no one is watching. So yes, Fitzpatrick’s also working in some dime (six defensive back) situations.

“It’s been difficult. I’ve made my mistakes,” Fitzpatrick said. “But honestly sir, I’m not saying it to brag but it’s an honor that there’s maybe one or two people that are in the league that can say they move around to so many positions and play at a high level. There are people that move around, but not at a high level.

Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke comments on safety Minkah Fitzpatrick during press conference after practice at Dolphin training facility.

“I’m putting in the work so I will be able to play at a high level this season.”

The Dolphins have a template for this audacious plan. Fitzpatrick played all over the field at Alabama under coach Nick Saban. He played practically every position in the secondary. He played some linebacker. It’s the reason Fitzpatrick collected nine interceptions, 4.5 sacks, 109 solo tackles, 35 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, one blocked field goal and one blocked punt in 38 starts.

So is it fair to expect the Dolphins to use Fitzpatrick similarly?

“Yeah, I think it’s very fair to do that,” Fitzpatrick said. “The defense that we ran at Alabama is very similar to this defense we’re running here. There are just small tendencies, different coverages and things that are different that I’m learning. But the coaches are doing a really good job of making sure that I’m learning as I’m moving around.

“I’m not moving around and getting confused or anything like that. I’m going position by position and learning them, the different concepts. A lot of them are similar so once you know one position, you know the other one. So you can assume I’ll be able to move around here. That’s the plan.”

Miami Dolphins 1st round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick understands that rookies are to be seen not heard on his second day of training camp for the team.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero
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