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Without Minkah Fitzpatrick, Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee are right at home

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had their share of injury problems this season. They lost Cam Heyward to Injured Reserve (IR) due to a groin injury, Anthony McFarland Jr. was put on IR the same week, Pat Freiermuth is on IR now with a hamstring injury, Cole Holcomb’s knee injury has ended his season, and Minkah Fitzpatrick is sidelined with a hamstring injury of his own.

The injury to Fitzpatrick also has a unique aspect to it, and it has everything to do with who is going to  be tasked with filling the void until he can return. That would be two players who are very comfortable with one another, Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal. The two safeties have quite the history together going back to the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys.

“As long as we keep going, we’re happy,” Kazee said of getting to play with his friend. “It’s year seven for me, year eight for him. We’re blessed to keep going.”

Having two safeties who know one another well is certainly going to help the Steelers secondary, and ease the burden of being without Fitzpatrick in the short term.

“I think we play off each other really well,” said Neal of playing alongside Kazee and how it can impact all three safeties when they’re all healthy. “It gives us all opportunities to do different things in the system, which is always good. It gives Minkah the opportunity to do different things, which is his skillset. He has a corner background. He’s a skilled player. Having him do different things, putting him in position to make plays is beneficial for us.”

Kazee has been with the Steelers for two years now, and when he saw Neal hit free agency this past offseason he put in a call to his old teammate telling him about Pittsburgh.

“That’s my boy. I remember him calling me up in the offseason, saying he’d been talking to them here,” Kazee said of Neal. “I gave him some key notes about the base defense, about where he’s going to fit in at, how they really help you here. He made a good decision.”

The fact Kazee and Neal have played together was something which caught the attention of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and he spoke about how well these two safeties have meshed into the Steelers’ scheme.

“Those guys play well together,” said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. “I think like anything, when you have new guys, it’s always fitting into the new system, and how does the new system compare to the old system, so you don’t get confused and do some different things. But those guys have been adapting well. Keanu, it’s his first year, and obviously Kazee has been in it. I’m excited about how those guys are looking.”

As it pertains to playing free and strong safety, Kazee doesn’t see much of a difference between the two positions.

“I don’t think there’s a difference between free safety and strong,” Kazee said. “You’ve got to make tackles. You’ve got to cover. You’ve got to play your zone area.

“(Neal) hits like a linebacker. I don’t think he plays like a linebacker. He’s very smart.”
And they’re gaining an even better feel with how to mesh with the many skill sets of Fitzpatrick on a weekly basis.

“I know how he plays. I know the ins and outs with him,” Kazee said of playing with Neal. “We’ve got a good feel with Minkah now. It’s pretty good now.”

The ultimate hope is the Steelers get Fitzpatrick back sooner than later, but it seems as if the deep secondary is in good hands in the short term. Can they keep the ship afloat in Week 10 vs. the Green Bay Packers? That would be the best-case scenario, in hopes Fitzpatrick can return fully healthy for some key divisional games coming up on the schedule.

In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned to SCN for the latest news and notes as the Steelers prepare for the Packers this Sunday in Week 10.


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