Steelers' Minkah Fitzpatrick says he's playing after missing 4 games

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in more than a month, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick expects to suit up and take the field Sunday.

Fitzpatrick, who has been sidelined since he injured a hamstring against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 29, told reporters Friday he would play against the Arizona Cardinals and that he feels "great."

Fitzpatrick has been a full participant in practice all week, the first time he has participated since sustaining the injury. "It's one of those injuries where you can feel great and then you go out there and you run and it's still not 110 [percent], and then you can go out there and feel great and then you might pop some scar tissue or tweak it a little bit," he said. "And especially as a DB, receiver or running back, something like that, you don't want to be out there until you're 110 and you can play at full go. That's one of those things you got to take your time with, be patient."

While sidelined, Fitzpatrick focused on being a vocal leader, finding a way to actively participate on game day. Against the Green Bay Packers, Fitzpatrick alerted defensive backs coach Grady Brown and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to a necessary adjustment that kept the Packers from scoring a last-minute, game-winning touchdown. And after the loss to the Browns, Fitzpatrick got into a heated argument with wide receiver Diontae Johnson in the locker room.

"We're a brotherhood," Fitzpatrick said, addressing the spat for the first time Friday. "Brothers fight. I got a younger brother, me and him butt heads sometimes. Sometimes I put him in a headlock. And sometimes he's got to give me a little push or shove just to let him me know he's there. It's a brotherhood. That's how we love each other sometimes. And at the end of the day, we all make amends. We move forward and chase the same goal together."

Without Fitzpatrick, who has been inactive four games, the Steelers have utilized a motley crew of defensive backs to replace the All-Pro safety. In Fitzpatrick's absence -- and with injuries landing safeties Keanu Neal and Elijah Riley on injured reserve -- the team signed practice squad safety Trenton Thompson to the 53-man roster. Thompson made the most of the opportunity and snagged an interception against the Cincinnati Bengals. Cornerback Patrick Peterson also helped fill the void created by the injuries and played some snaps at safety.

The Steelers went 3-1 without Fitzpatrick, and in the past three weeks their defense has found its groove.

In their past three games, the Steelers have held opponents to an average of 293.3 yards -- significantly better than their season average of 354.4. The Steelers have also held opponents to 79 rushing yards per game, making them a top-five rushing defense in that stretch.

"We survived, didn't we?," Peterson said with a grin. "It's awesome to get Minkah back into the lineup, because he means so much to not only the secondary, but to this defense man by getting guys lined up, the playmaking ability, the fire that he brings each and every play.

"We're so just extremely blessed to get Minkah back at this time of the year because we really feel like we're trending in the right direction. And when you're trending in the right direction, you get a five-star player like Minkah, man, let's see where it really can take us."