Having a ball

The football found free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick with remarkable regularity after he joined the Steelers, until it didn't.

One of the tasks since last season ended has been to devise ways for Fitzpatrick to find the ball.

"I think he's a phenomenal football player, checks all the boxes," senior defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin observed. "Made a lot of turnovers early and then teams tried to stay away from him. I think that's just a testament to, when you're a good player a lot of times you don't get all that action."

Fitzpatrick registered an interception and a forced fumble on Sept. 22 at San Francisco, his first game after arriving in a trade with Miami. Over his next nine games he came up with four more interceptions including a 96-yard pick-six on Nov. 3 against Indianapolis two fumble recoveries and eight passes defensed.

But in the final four regular-season games Fitzpatrick's takeaways went away, zeroes across the board.

The Steelers have been pondering and making progress toward putting Fitzpatrick in roles other than the deep centerfielder position he played last season in an effort to make him more difficult for opponents to work around.

"We'll maybe be able to move him around a little bit more," Austin continued. "Getting him Week Three like we did last year, you're just trying to throw him in and just trying to make sure that we get lined up and all that other stuff.

"I think this offseason has been helpful for us and for him, for the group because we've been able to talk some things out and really get down into the details of our defense. And I think that'll give him a little bit more ability to maybe show up at a couple different positions, which will help him get around the ball a little bit more."

Getting third-year strong safety Terrell Edmunds around the ball more often is also a priority.

Edmunds, the Steelers' first-round pick in 2018, contributed one fumble recovery and zero interceptions to the Steelers' NFL-best total of 38 takeaways.

Edmunds has one career interception, as many as his brother, running back Trey Edmunds, had on special teams last season.

"He's a good football player, we just gotta get him a little bit more ball-production," Austin said. "Catching the ball, getting around the ball, stripping the ball, fumble recoveries, all those things we'll just continue to practice them.

"I'm sure they'll come because the kid works hard, he's around the ball, he's always available, he's out there every snap. The biggest thing we have to do is just continue to work on it and when he gets near the ball to make sure he has that production that we need. That's really the only thing that was lacking out of his game last year."

For Austin and the defensive backs, such pursuits are conducted in an atmosphere that's always lively, if somewhat confused occasionally.

"I think I have a couple young guys who think they're old in Minkah and 'T' (Edmunds)," Austin offered. "They think they're like 35-year-old guys. And I have older guys like (cornerbacks) Joe (Haden) and Steve (Nelson) and they're like rookies, they're bouncing around in our (defensive backs) room.

"It's kinda neat to watch the personalities with the guys. It's a really good group in terms of the different mixtures of personalities and how they get along."