TAMPA, Fla. — Second-year defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick opened up Wednesday afternoon about being uncomfortable with how he’s being used in the Miami Dolphins defense. This all came after Fitzpatrick’s mom tweeted about him being miscast as a strong safety in response to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter saying he wasn’t playing well.
“Maybe it’s because he is not a SS (strong safety) and is being used to suit other people skill set not his own,” Melissa Fitzpatrick said via Twitter.
Fitzpatrick was informed about his mom’s tweet shortly after finishing up joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The main point of contention seems to be that the 205-pound Fitzpatrick has been asked to play in the box often as a strong safety and occasionally linebacker in recent weeks.
“I wish she would have addressed me first and talked to me first before it happens, but it is what it is. She feels very strongly. She’s not wrong,” Fitzpatrick said. “Coach has asked me do something right now. I got to do what they ask me to do. If we have to have some discussions in the future, we’ll have those discussions.”
After the 2018 season, Fitzpatrick said he wanted to know what position the Dolphins planned for him to play early in the offseason. Dolphins coach Brian Flores has indicated that Fitzpatrick will continue to be versatile and play multiple positions like many other players on the defense. Fitzpatrick split time primarily at slot and outside cornerback in 2018, but the box safety role is somewhat new to him in the NFL.
“I’m not 215 pounds, 220 pounds. So playing in the box isn’t best suited for me, but that’s what coach is asking me to do,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m going to go out there and practice my hardest. I might lose some of the matchups in the box, but I’m going to try my hardest. The coaches know what my skill set is. I talked to them. They know I can cover. They saw it last year. I can go out there on the outside. But they’re still trying to figure out.”
The Dolphins moved slot cornerback Bobby McCain to free safety while using Fitzpatrick, veteran safeties Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald in hybrid positions. Jones and McDonald have been out at least the last week with injuries forcing Fitzpatrick to assume more in-the-box reps.
“It’s a great opportunity for him and really any young guy. When people go down, it’s a great opportunity. It really is, and Minkah’s taking advantage of that,” Flores said of Fitzpatrick’s role change. “We’re moving him around. He’s playing some strong safety, he’s playing some linebacker, he’s playing some corner. He’s all over the place. That’s a good thing. That’s a really good thing.”
That might be where Flores and Fitzpatrick (and Fitzpatrick’s mom) disagree on whether this is a good thing.
But Fitzpatrick has typically been receptive to coaching and eager to do whatever has been asked of him. That’s why these honest comments raised a few eyebrows.
Fitzpatrick has had an up-and-down training camp following a strong rookie season. Wednesday was a perfect example of that, as it appeared he was on the receiving end of Xavien Howard‘s frustration due to miscommunication and a coverage bust on a Bucs touchdown. He later intercepted Jameis Winston to kill a two-minute drill.
Despite questions about how he’s being used, Fitzpatrick seems like he won’t fight it much more. He wants to be a team player and do what the coaches ask, even if he may not see it the same way.
“You just got to do it, man. If you resist it, you’re not going to play well,” said Fitzpatrick, who indicated he hasn’t talked to coaches about his ideal role but figures they know. “They don’t expect to win every single snap against a 320-pound tackle. They just want me to do my job. They’re not going to put me in situations where I have to do that every single play. They know where my strengths are.”
Fitzpatrick is one of the Dolphins’ best young defensive talents. Flores has been adamant that the best 11 players will see the field even if they aren’t listed as starters on the depth chart.
Fitzpatrick, a 2018 first-round pick, often shined as a slot cornerback at the University of Alabama. His best position seems to be slot cornerback and his skill set also seems to translate well to being a free safety. His game indicates that he could succeed in a role similar to Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins. Flores’ multiple defense means there will be very few one-role players on this defense.
“He can do a lot of things. Part of what we do is try to put him in positions — because he can do so many things — not to overload the kid,” Flores said. “I don’t feel like he’s overloaded. He’s played multiple positions. He’s really done a good job at all of them. Every time he gets out there, it’s a new experience.”
As Fitzpatrick tries to balance doing what’s best for the team and voicing what role he feels is best suited for him, the Dolphins certainly hope those things will fully align by the start of the regular season.