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Mike Hilton, not William Gay, taking Steelers’ first-team reps in nickel defense

From being a training camp hopeful to a potential starter, such is life for Mike Hilton.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to a player’s approach to being invited to attend an NFL training camp, most probably have to think they’ve got an uphill battle before even thinking about making the team’s 53-man roster, let alone landing a starting role.

But for Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton, this is exactly the situation he’s facing as the team prepares for their Week 1 game against the Cleveland Browns.

Hilton, a standout during the preseason, made a lasting impact on the coaching staff, so much so that they’re giving him first-team reps at the nickel cornerback position ahead of veteran William Gay.

For those who don’t know, the nickel cornerback is usually someone who plays a significant number of snaps and the first cornerback on the field when the team goes into its nickel sub package. If the team also adds another defensive back, they would then be in their dime package, and Gay would enter the lineup.

The fact Hilton didn’t only make the team as a special teams ace, but potentially will see lots of playing time on the defense speaks volumes about Hilton’s football intelligence and his work ethic.

The following was written by Red Cup Rebellion, SB Nation’s Ole Miss website, regarding Hilton, who used to play for Ole Miss:

Same ole same ole, right? That same swagger that you can’t teach, same grit and determination despite being 5’9 and a buck-80 and that same devastating tackling technique that he flashed in the SEC for three years. This isn’t just a flash in the pan, feel good Hard Knocks moment here, no. He made ANOTHER fantastic play nine days later against the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

The skill set and ability to flash on the tape has never been a question. But the size has. For now though, it seems that the Steelers like him enough to put him out there and see what he can do. But, standing just 5’9, Mike will likely be slotted for just one position in the NFL: slot cornerback.

In an NFL that is constantly evolving and incorporating more and more spread offenses, guys like Mike Hilton are going to become more and more valuable for defenses in order to combat four and five-wide sets and quarterbacks who sling it around the yard 40+ times a game. His skill set combo of instinctive play-making, quickness in and out of breaks and sure tackling ability is something general managers are hard-pressed to find every year in a draft.

Sounds like Hilton making plays is old news for those who watched him alongside recently released Senquez Golson in college. Hilton is getting a chance to be the Steelers’ nickel cornerback, and whether he keeps the job is now entirely within his own hands.