When the Miami Dolphins drafted Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, one of the things the coaching staff was most excited about was his versatility. That versatility got used to the fullest in 2018 as Fitzpatrick played every position in the secondary due to injuries or bad performances by other players.
Needless to say, Fitzpatrick being used in all the ways he was in 2018 kept him from really nailing down one position that he could potentially thrive at, which actually limited his ability to decide what he should focus on improving in the offseason.
“I gotta know what I’m gonna be playing first.” Fitzpatrick said back in December.
And up to this point, there has been little indication as to where the Dolphins plan to have Fitzpatrick play in 2019 and beyond, and plenty of speculation by fans and analysts who go around in circles, debating whether Fitzpatrick should play as a boundary corner, in the slot, or as a free safety alongside Reshad Jones and/or T.J. McDonald.
But on Monday, the answer came one step closer to being revealed, as GM Chris Grier dropped some information regarding where the coaching staff projects to have the former Alabama standout.
“I think position flexibility is always important; but I think especially with young players, if you can put them at one spot and let them sort of master that one position instead of each week, bouncing around … It’s hard to do.” Grier said. “To his credit, he did a very good job of it last year; but I think just letting him – especially when he’s young – stay at one spot, I think that’s what Brian and the coaching staff are focused on.”So while we may not know exactly where Fitzpatrick will be lining up on defense just yet, at least now we know that Flores and the defensive coaching staff plans to keep Fitzpatrick at only one spot if they can help it.
If an emergency comes up, then perhaps Fitzpatrick could be moved again in a pinch. But at this point, it’s safe to assume that he won’t be moved out of position again simply because another player isn’t doing as good as the staff would like. Instead, they seem intent to focus on putting Fitzpatrick in the best position to succeed, while shoring up the weaker positions by other means.
“That’s the unique thing about Minkah, he can do a lot of stuff. I think they have a position where he’s going to be locked in but I would rather have Coach Flores tell you guys that if that’s what he wants to do.” Grier said. “But I will say they really enjoy watching the film as we did, and I think he can still get better from what he was as a rookie and we’re excited about his future.”
The Dolphins see Minkah Fitzpatrick as a safety long term, but the contracts of Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald complicate the team’s short-term plans. General Manager Chris Grier said last week the Dolphins would like to keep Fitzpatrick at one position after he played all over the secondary last season.
So new coach Brian Flores was asked where he sees Fitzpatrick playing this season.
“Minkah’s a football player,” Flores said at the coaches’ breakfast last week. “I think his strength is that he can handle a lot of different positions. He’s versatile. Free safety, strong safety, corner, Star, ‘backer. You can do whatever you want with him. He’s a guy we spent a lot of time thinking about how we’re going to use him. I’m not going to give up the goods on how we’re going to do that.”
Fitzpatrick’s versatility is one of the qualities that led the Dolphins to make him the 11th overall choice last year. He played 944 snaps as a rookie, seeing time at free safety, slot corner and boundary corner.
Flores sounds as if he will have to see where Fitzpatrick best fits his defense.
“I think my preference is to see what he can handle and see what he does that will help the team win,” Flores said. “If that’s multiple positions, then that’s multiple positions. If that’s one spot, then that’s one spot. If he can long snap or kick field goals and that helps us win, then that’s what we do. Obviously, I don’t think he can long snap or kick field goals — let’s be clear on that — but maybe he can. We try to find out what every player can do and how they can help us win. How can they improve the team? I think versatility is going to be very important, and he’s a very versatile player. He was last year. We’re excited to work with him.”
He would step in for Winston again in 2018 when the former No. 1 overall pick was benched. Fitzpatrick played in eight games with seven starts, finishing with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and completing 66.7 percent of his passes — the highest completion percentage of his career.
Fitzpatrick’s greatest issue is stringing consistent games together over long stretches of time, as he struggled with interceptions when former Bucs coach Dirk Koetter moved him into a starting role.
Fitzpatrick, who has also played for the Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans and Jets, has thrown for 29,357 yards with 190 touchdowns and 148 interceptions in 141 games. He could become the first player to throw passes for eight NFL teams, breaking a tie with six other players, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
He also becomes the second owner of the “FitzMagic” nickname on the Dolphins roster. In September 2018, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to own the nickname in hopes of selling merchandise and apparel.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, who said he had the nickname since high school, had his trademark request denied in January.
ESPN’s Jenna Laine contributed to this report.