PITTSBURGH — At least one significant piece is returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers defense ahead of Sunday’s AFC North matchup at the Cincinnati Bengals .
The team activated safety Minkah Fitzpatrick off the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday morning.
"He looks like he’s 100 percent out there to me," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. "He’ll practice today and see how he feels, stuff like that."
Fitzpatrick tested positive for the virus Nov. 15 and was activated to the active roster after a mandated 10-day stay in COVID-19 protocols.
Without Fitzpatrick — and two other significant contributors in pass-rusher T.J. Watt and cornerback Joe Haden — the Steelers’ defense struggled to keep the high-powered Los Angeles Chargers ‘ offense in check. In Fitzpatrick’s absence, rookie safety Tre Norwood wound up playing every snap.
Fitzpatrick isn’t the only defensive player the Steelers hope to have back against the Bengals. Watt, who injured his hip and knee in a fourth-quarter sack against the Detroit Lions , returned to practice Wednesday as a limited participant. Watt missed the first meeting against the Bengals after sustaining a groin injury a week earlier, and fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith also was out of that game with a groin injury of his own.
Haden, who suffered a mid-foot sprain in the same game, didn’t practice Wednesday, but coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday he anticipated his return to practice sometime this week, too.
"I’m real happy about it," Butler said of getting Fitzpatrick back. "And the possibility of getting the other guys back, too, that always helps. Last time we played them we were down a couple people.
"Having those guys come back and being able to play means a lot to us, means a lot to everybody that’s out there on the field. They’re used to playing with each other. It will be better for us, no doubt."