So I haven’t really seen this talked about, but I couldn’t help but notice that Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin held second-year cornerback Mike Hilton out of the game on Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers, which I thought was an interesting decision.
Unlike with what he did at the nose tackle position, in which he allowed Daniel McCullers to start and put in Javon Hargrave after him, Hilton simply did not play at all, giving second-year cornerback Cameron Sutton the opportunity to get an extended look, which was presumably the exact purpose of the decision in the first place.
Which does say a lot about what the team thinks of Hilton after such a relatively brief period of time. They have had him for less time than they have had Artie Burns, yet they seem to treat him as a more proven commodity (and in fairness, that might actually be the case).
Hilton was an undrafted free agent in the same draft class as Burns in 2016, only he was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He didn’t make their team, however, and eventually found his way to the Steelers’ practice squad later that year. He was re-signed to a Reserve/Future contract after the season was over and ended up the team’s starting nickel cornerback in 2017.
The rest, one might say, is history. Only one would be wrong, because he’s just getting started. He is a different player and a different person this offseason after he got the opportunity to prove himself a year ago, demonstrating not just to others but also to himself that he is capable of competing at a high level in the NFL.
This time a year ago, though, was hist time. It was a series of strong showings in the preseason that got him not only a spot on the 53-man roster, but the opportunity to be the starting nickel defender. He had success in every phase of his game, playing solid coverage while offering stout defense, effective blitzing, and quality special teams play.
Now he’s a veteran and being treated as such a known commodity, seemingly, that the team is willing to give him a game off in order to get an extended look at another young player that they would like to learn more about in Sutton, who was a third-round draft pick a year ago.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hilton did play one snap, on the punt coverage unit, though I didn’t see it. He will probably have his special teams work scaled back this year as he plays an even more prominent role on the defensive side of the ball.
A lot of what I’ve written above would be rendered moot if we were to learn that his lack of playing time was due to some disciplinary issue, but I’ve read nothing of the sort, so I think I’m okay.