MIAMI GARDENS — Minkah Fitzpatrick was one of the last players to leave the Miami Dolphins locker room after Thursday’s 26-24 loss to Tampa Bay in the preseason opener.

But before the rookie safety departed after a successful debut that included three tackles and a pass defended, he reached into his locker and scooped up the O.J. Howard jersey he exchanged with Tampa Bay’s second-year tight end after the game.

The jersey exchange is a practice Fitzpatrick plans to continue all season when he plays against former college teammates from Alabama. Howard was the Buccaneers’ first-round pick in 2017.

“There’s a lot of ’Bama guys that we’re going to be playing against,” Fitzpatrick said, “so I definitely want to get their jerseys and put them up on my wall.”

Fitzpatrick, Miami’s first-round pick with a veteran demeanor, started alongside fellow safety T.J. McDonald against Tampa Bay because usual starter Reshad Jones got the night off.

It remains to be seen exactly how defensive coordinator Matt Burke will utilize Fitzpatrick in Miami’s defense. There aren’t many formations that employ a third safety, and Bobby McCain has a stranglehold on the slot position.

So Fitzpatrick, a sure tackler with solid ball-tracking skills, is in limbo.

“I don’t feel pressure right now to (say) we have to get this package out of this group,” Burke said.

Coach Adam Gase, speaking after the game, said he wouldn’t be sure how well Fitzpatrick played against Tampa Bay until he reviews the game video.

“I’ve got to watch it in detail to really evaluate anybody,” Gase said.

But the preliminary returns on Fitzpatrick were good, even by his own standards.

“I think I did a pretty good job, did some good things, did some things I could correct,” he said.

“But I feel pretty good right now.”

At the very least Fitzpatrick seemed to know what he was doing. That was evidenced in the first quarter when he delivered a blow that dislodged the ball from Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin, who slipped behind cornerback Xavien Howard.

“They hurried up the snap count so they kind of caught me inside the hash and they tried to fit the ball in the window,” Fitzpatrick said. “I just broke. I saw him release outside the corners. I just ran straight to the receiver and I just tried to make a play on the ball.”

Throughout training camp Fitzpatrick has been playing with the first and second teams, alternating with both Jones and McDonald, and sometimes playing alongside that duo. Fitzpatrick has rarely been caught out of position or taken bad angles on tackles.

So while it’s up to Burke to find a way to best utilize Fitzpatrick, he said last week he’s under no time constraint.

“This time for us is trying to find out how versatile all of those guys are, and what the best alignment is for all three of them,” Burke said, “so when the time does come that we say, ‘All right, let’s do this together,’ that they’ve gotten the rep at those techniques or those spots or whatever it is.”

In the meantime, Fitzpatrick, who seems unfazed by the situation, has already glanced at the preseason schedule with his jersey exchange program in mind. Next up for Miami is Carolina, which doesn’t have a single Alabama player on its roster.

It’s a different story, however, in two weeks when Miami hosts Baltimore. The Ravens have center Bradley Bozeman, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Tim Williams and cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Marlon Humphrey.

“Baltimore, we’ve got a whole squad over there,” Fitzpatrick said.

Before Fitzpatrick left the locker room he was asked how he felt taking the field at Hard Rock Stadium as a starter in his first NFL appearance. You got the feeling that moment, and no moment so far, has been too big for him.

“I felt comfortable out there,” Fitzpatrick said with a shrug. “Just another day in the office, on the field. Nothing changed too much. Just play calls, jerseys and the stadium.”