DAVIE (CBSMiami/AP) — If the Miami Dolphins are going to have a successful season in 2018, they’ll need some very young players to step up and play big roles.
Two weeks into the Dolphins’ offseason practice regimen, first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick’s running tally of interceptions is underway.
“Have I been counting them? Every DB counts them,” Fitzpatrick said with a laugh after Tuesday’s workout. “I’ve got two picks and a couple of pass breakups. Just doing my job.”
Contact drills won’t begin until training camp, but early indications are the Dolphins used the 11th overall pick wisely when they selected Fitzpatrick.
The safety from Alabama said he’s not fazed by reports Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wanted to trade down on draft night rather than pick Fitzpatrick.
“I heard about it,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s a businessman. He’s going to see the business side of everything. This is extra motivation to prove I’m a worthy pick and deserve to be here.”
The front office wanted a playmaker to upgrade a defense that ranked fourth-worst in points allowed last season, and so far Fitzpatrick looks as if he’ll make Miami better.
“He has done a good job,” coach Adam Gase said. “He has gotten his hands on a lot of balls. He seems to be all over the place. He has a great motor and a great work ethic. You can tell he takes this very seriously and puts everything he has into this.”
The Dolphins’ investment goes beyond a first-round choice. Fitzpatrick signed a $16.44 million, four-year deal last week.
But he said he didn’t celebrate the contract, and doesn’t have any plans for the money besides buying a place to live.
“Anytime you see your hard work paying off, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “But you’ve got to keep telling yourself it’s not the end goal. I didn’t come here just to be a first-round pick. I wanted to be a great player here and establish a great legacy.”
Fitzpatrick said the Dolphins are dividing his practice time evenly among the strong safety, free safety and nickel back positions. He said he doesn’t have a preference and is happy to move around.
“They trust me to do that,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’re not putting too much on me, but they know they can put a lot on me.”
Pro Bowler Reshad Jones is certain to start at one safety spot, and veteran safety T.J. McDonald also returns after starting the final eight games last season.
Defensive coordinator Matt Burke may decide to play both along with Fitzpatrick at times, and June is a time for experimenting.
General manager Chris Grier has compared Fitzpatrick to a Swiss army knife because of his versatility. And wherever Fitzpatrick lines up, he’s making his presence felt.
“He is flying around at practice,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “He plays aggressive and plays fast, and that’s what you want to see out of a DB.”
Fitzpatrick played for Nick Saban at Alabama, which may be why he hasn’t found the demands of the NFL too daunting so far. In fact, the coaching styles of Saban and Gase are similar, he said.
“They’re both very passionate coaches,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’re both real hands-on. The only difference is coach Saban yells a bit more.”
At Alabama, Fitzpatrick had a school-record four interception returns for touchdowns. He’s confident about quickly improving his professional pick total.
“That’s going to keep going up,” Fitzpatrick said. “As I get more and more comfortable, I’ll make more and more plays.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)