When Pittsburgh Steelers fans saw news of Mike Hilton practicing at safety, most who pay close attention to training camp news likely shrugged their shoulders and said, “What else is new.”
The reason for this thinking is that last year the Steelers deployed Hilton at safety more than once during training camp, but that was the extent of their experimentation. For most, Hilton was always viewed as a safety valve at the position in case something happened to either Sean Davis or Terrell Edmunds.
With such a lack of depth at safety heading into 2019, it makes sense for Hilton to bounce around in the defensive secondary. After all, the more you can do the better you make the team.
But this year is different. Since taking over the slot cornerback role in 2017, Hilton has never really had anyone truly challenge his position. That is, until now. Cameron Sutton has been with the team for two seasons now, but is having his best training camp to date, and if he can duplicate the coverage and ball skills he is showing in practice onto the preseason playing field, it will be difficult for the Steelers to keep him off the field.
But this also speaks about Hilton’s versatility. Hilton isn’t just flexing back to safety just for kicks, but according to teammates he can play the position well.
“Oh, he can play it,” strong safety Terrell Edmunds told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s a hard worker who puts everything on the line for his team. A guy who’s willing and able to do anything. He can play multiple positions.”
But maybe this isn’t about one or the other, but rather both. There is a very good chance the Steelers can use both Hilton and Sutton in their dime sub package, as well as any other defensive formation which would require another defensive back to enter the field, last year the Steelers referred to this as their “dollar” defense.
Hilton ended the season on a low note last year. Dealing with an injury, he seemed to be targeted more and more as the season progressed. It could have been viewed the opposition was looking for his matchup and exploiting it on a regular basis. But the team still has faith in their slot cornerback, even though Hilton didn’t get the long-term contract he desired prior to this season.
“He’s one of the best slot corners in the game,” wide receiver Donte Moncrief, and former Ole Miss teammate of Hilton, said.
Regardless, Hilton shows up to work every day with a chip on his shoulder, looking to get better in some way.
“I just go in every day with a chip on my shoulder,” Hilton said. “It’s a job. You don’t produce and they will find somebody else. So I have to focus on what I can do to get better and help this defense win games.
“It’s Year 3 for me. I had better have a better feel for the defense and feel more comfortable and have more confidence. That’s what will guide me.”
Fans will debate who could/should play at certain positions, but it is safe to say all fans can agree on the fact if both Hilton and Sutton can play at a high level, you can never have too many good defensive backs. That is a problem the Steelers haven’t had in the Mike Tomlin era.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for their first preseason game this Friday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to Heinz Field in Preseason Week 1.