Sometimes all it takes is proper motivation applied at just the right moment. Bud Dupree's breakout performance last season is the latest example of the validity of that statement. Dupree went from being a solid starter to a impact defender seemingly overnight. He went from being a pass rusher who picked up a large majority of his sacks due to missed assignments or having the QB flushed into his area by some exceptional teammates, to an impact performer who joined those teammates as an elite contributor at his position. He finally played like the player we all knew he could be. So what changed and why?
There are obviously more than one answer to those questions. Familiarity with the system and a clearer understanding of his responsibilities within that system, the underrated impact of a more hands on approach from LB guru Keith Butler, and an significant uptick in the surrounding talent definitely all played a role. However, we should never underestimate the motivational impact of any player fighting for their next contract, roster spot, and financial future. It has a tendency to bring out the best in a individual.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a number of these situations playing themselves out on the field this upcoming season, which I believe bodes well for the immediate interest of the franchise, but for this discussion we will focus on the slot corner position and the two men presently manning the position; Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton.
They share a position, a locker room, a meeting room, and hopefully a special bond as teammates. They also share the stark reality that within this seasons expected intense competition for playing time they are actually competing for something more, something that may come down to an either-or situation. Their next contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and maybe even a little job security in the process.
We presently live in the intriguing world of the hybrid defender in the NFL universe, and I am admittedly a huge fan. If we could take the individual skill sets of Hilton and Sutton and somehow morph them into a single player, we quite possibly could have the prototypical slot corner.
Slot corners are becoming an ever increasing valuable commodity in today's NFL. Back in my younger years the NFL was a power running game, the proverbial three yards and a cloud of dust mentality. The first defender off the bench to see the field in an obvious passing situation was basically your third best cornerback, not quite good enough at that point to unseat one of the starters. Now your slot corner is basically another starter, seeing starters minutes consistently, and have utilized their unique abilities to become a specialist on the field.
Usually due to size and speed constraints, they are often not an option to spell a starter on the outside, but the opposite end of the spectrum holds true also. Most outside corners don't have the specialized skill and mindset to thrive on the interior.
The Steelers presently have two viable options at slot, and both bring totally different abilities to the equation. The origin stories for both Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton are well documented and known by Steelers Nation, therefore this article will focus on what they have become at this point of their development.
Mike Hilton is pound for pound one of the most physical players in the league. His aggressive style and fundamentally sound tackling prowess belies his diminutive stature. He is able to accurately diagnosis the play happening in front of him and quickly close to make a play, all while maintaining the integrity of his assignments. He has the football IQ necessary to avoid the behemoths nearly twice his size looking to annihilate him, and the requisite durability to remain on the field. He is accomplished at the delayed blitz, when properly timed and disguised. That has been an issue in recent seasons honestly.
That is all the positives, which adds up to quite the resume. His struggles in pass coverage is the only real negative, but it's a big one. Although blessed with short area quickness, Hilton lacks the length and long speed to excel in many potential matchups. A lack of ball awareness also limits his effectiveness in coverage.
That brings us to the Cam Sutton portion of the show. Sutton has the draft pedigree of a third round selection, maybe a slight leg up in the competition. The Steelers have struggled to identify secondary talent this decade, and at least Sutton has kinda panned out. Sutton was drafted where he was based mostly on his coverage abilities and collegiate experience at both corner and safety. His football intelligence and versatility were admired by scouts.
Sutton's coverage abilities have been his calling card thus far in his NFL career. The most descriptive word for his coverage skills is smooth. His footwork, change of direction, and instincts are usually seamless. Although he lacks Hilton's physicality, he possesses superior size and ball awareness. He has carved out a niche in the Steelers sub packages, but is hungry for more.
The Steelers seemingly are eternally facing difficult personnel decisions every off season, and next year promises to be no different. Both Hilton and Sutton are established contributors, and desperately desire another contract and perceived job security that goes with it. The Steelers hierarchy appears to be more than happy sticking with the single year contracts, especially in light of the motivational factor it creates and the slew of high priced stars they are blessed to have on the roster. In the end, those individuals will always take precedent in any decision.
So who will ball out this season and earn that next contract? Will Hilton defy the odds and win again in the end, or will Sutton's draft pedigree and versatility be the difference? Is it even possible that the Steelers figure out a way to keep both?
Only time will tell, but I am sure all of Steelers Nation looks forward to the opportunity to find out. Please case your vote in the attached poll and share your opinion in the comments below.
Which Steelers slot corner has the best odds of being offered another contract at the end of this season?
This poll is closed