If there were just one player from the deep roster that was the most intriguing to get a look at tonight, I think that many would have said Mike Hilton, the first-year former undrafted free agent cornerback who spent some time on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad late last year.
A former teammate of Senquez Golson’s at Ole Miss, the 5’9” defensive back failed to crack a 53-man roster during his rookie season, but his preseason debut with the Steelers was a textbook example of how to do just that.
While it would require some reviewing in order to recap everything that he managed to do during the night against the Giants, Hilton was active on both defense and special teams. In fact, he recorded three tackles on special teams, by my count, at least.
From memory, he induced a fair catch on the opening punt from Jordan Berry. He made the tackle from the far side of the field on the second punt. On a third punt, he split a pair of vice jammers to get the initial pressure on the returner, and when the ball was fumbled, he recovered it.
In the second half, he also recorded two tackles on kickoffs, including a good stick on the opening kickoff. After the Steelers scored later in the third quarter, he was there down the field following a good return by the Giants to clean up and minimize the gain.
Interestingly enough, Hilton’s biggest contributions on the defensive side of the ball came as a blitzer. From what I was able to gather from the live broadcast, he recorded three total pressures on probably not man more total blitzes than that.
Toward the end of the first half, Hilton was sent on a blitz on third and six from the Steelers’ 24-yard line. He was unblocked, but he showed good closing speed to finish the play, recording the sack for a loss of 10 yards. That forced the Giants to attempt a 52-yard field goal, though it was successful.
Later on in the game, Hilton had another pressure on third down in which he jarred the running back trying to block him and then slipping by to get into the backfield, forcing the quarterback to throw errant. He got another pressure on a fourth-down play to force a bad pass late in the game.
The first-year man recorded three total tackles on defense as well, including one following an 11-yard pass on third and 13. That set up a fourth-and two in which he came up the middle to hold the runner short of the first to induce a turnover on downs.
Still later, on the Giants’ final possession, he did get beaten for a first-down reception on fourth and four, but he showed some tenacity to stay in and make the tackle. He also slipped while defending an inside screen pass. His overall performance on defense will obviously require deeper examination, but frankly, his special-teams performance alone could get him on the 53-man roster.