First Call: Minkah Fitzpatrick wanted fifth-year option for Steelers teammate; Gerrit Coles awkward Spider Tack response – TribLIVE

Wednesday’s “First Call” features interesting comments by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on some recent front office decisions. Gerrit Cole gives a bizarre explanation about Spider Tack. Levon Kirkland sees a lot of himself in a potential NFL star linebacker. And yet another entertaining game out west between the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights.


Minkah makes his thoughts known

Prior to the draft, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick insisted he didn’t want to lobby for the team’s front office to choose fellow Alabama alum Najee Harris with the organization’s first-round pick.

But he gave the running back a strong endorsement.

Now that both players are in the same locker room in Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick is once again singing the praises of Harris.

“He’s a great player, and I expect him to be that,” Fitzpatrick said Tuesday after an OTA practice. “He’s a tough guy, an athletic guy. He’s fast out of the backfield. He was picked (in the first round) by the Steelers for a reason.”

Fitzpatrick was also happy that Steelers brass picked up his fifth-year option during the offseason.

However, Fitzpatrick wasn’t as thrilled with the franchise’s decision to withhold a fifth-year option on former No. 1 draft pick Terrell Edmunds. The former Virginia Tech Hokie has been Fitzpatrick’s partner at safety since the Steelers acquired Fitzpatrick via trade from the Miami Dolphins early in 2019.

“It’s part of the game. I wish they did,” Fitzpatrick replied when asked for his reaction to the Steelers’ decision on Edmunds. “He’s a great player. I love playing with him. Whatever happens, happens. It’s up to the people upstairs. We’re going to go out this season and play our best.”

I do think Edmunds plays his best every game. His effort should never come into question. I do, however, question if his best is good enough for the money he would command after this season.

I get why the Steelers did what they did with Edmunds. He’s good. Not great. But that’s yet another hole to patch on defense during next year’s offseason when many leaks will have to be plugged.


I can see it that way

During the NFL draft season, a lot of Steelers fans fell in love with Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins.

He was often portrayed as a guy who could’ve blossomed into a “Levon Kirkland-type” inside linebacker. Big. Strong. And athletic enough to cover well. It is also believed Collins could bump out to the edge and rush the passer when needed.

Kirkland went the other way. He bulked up from 240 pounds at Clemson when he was playing outside linebacker and ended up playing inside linebacker at an All-Pro Level at 275 pounds.

Collins (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) went at pick No. 16 in the first round to the Arizona Cardinals, eight spots before the Steelers drafted Alabama running back Najee Harris.

During Tuesday’s “Breakfast With Benz” podcast, Kirkland told us he was aware of Collins and he appreciates the comparisons.

“He’s explosive. If you get him to understand the position of inside linebacker — being able to use your eyes a bit more instead of your athletic ability, then it can probably work. Especially if he can drop in coverage,” Kirkland said.

The Cardinals signed Collins Tuesday. He will earn $14.7 million ($8 million signing bonus) on his four-year deal. The Cardinals also hold a fifth-year option for 2025.


Say that again?

Former Pirate pitcher Gerrit Cole was directly asked if he had used Spider Tack to get a better grip on the ball.

The Athletic recently reported that Major League Baseball is studying the substance that sharply increases the spin rates of pitchers.

His response was … awkward.

After an extended pause, Cole stammered through the following soliloquy in which he didn’t deny — or confirm — he is using Spider Tack, which reportedly is easy to hide while a pitcher is on the mound.

“I don’t know if — I don’t quite know how to answer that to be honest,” Cole said Tuesday. “There are customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players, from the last generation of players to this generation of players, and I think there are some things that are certainly out of bounds in that regard and I’ve stood pretty firm in terms of that and in terms of our communications between our peers and whatnot.”

If that sounded meandering, wait until you see the video with it.

Wow. I thought the Zoom connection froze for a minute there.

The internet had some fun with that answer. As it should.

MLB recently suspended four minor league pitchers for using illegal substances.

Cole gave up five runs over five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday. Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson connected the dots and said there is a connection between those suspensions and why Cole’s spin rate dropped during that start.

“Is it coincidence that Gerrit Cole’s spin rate numbers went down after four minor leaguers got suspended for 10 games?” Donaldson said. “Is that possible? I don’t know. Maybe. At the same time, with this situation, they’ve let guys do it.”

I’ve got an answer for that.

Exactly, Chuck. Whatever you say.


Bouncing back

We saw another highly entertaining game between the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night in the West Division second round. And once again, Gibsonia’s Brandon Saad and former Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury were at the center of it.

Saad opened the scoring at the end of the first period by flinging this shot toward Fleury’s net. And somehow Fleury misplayed it into a goal.

That was Saad’s seventh goal in his last eight games. He had 15 the entire regular season. Colorado would score another goal in the second period. But the Knights clawed back to tie it at 2-2 before the end of regulation, with Fleury keeping them in it, making a few sprawling saves, and even one with his mask.

Then Mark Stone won it in just 50 seconds into overtime for the Knights, after the Avs had a glorious chance 30 seconds earlier.

So the Golden Knights won the game 3-2. And they lead the series 3-2 as well with a chance to eliminate the Avalanche in Las Vegas Thursday night. Fleury made 28 saves on the night.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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