nerThe offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Somebody other than Mike Hilton will end the season as the defense’s primary nickel defender.
Explanation: As we head closer and closer to the start of the regular season, it seems less and less certain that third-year cornerback Mike Hilton’s role is set in stone. Particularly in the last preseason game, he was burned deep multiple times from the slot. In the second half, they gave him a long look at safety, and they were tinkering with defensive backs Kameron Kelly and Cameron Sutton in that slot coverage role.
One thing that has to be said about Mike Hilton’s first season is that nobody really knew who he was at the time. That could have played a partial factor in some of the success that he had. His work in coverage took a step backward last year, however, and the preseason so far isn’t inspiring confidence in a return to his 2017 form.
Both Kameron Kelly and Cameron Sutton have had good offseasons. Kelly has worked primarily at safety but is just as much a cornerback, and has an interception history. Sutton has been around the ball consistently, and his improved tackling and aggressiveness paired with his height may well win him time over Hilton.
While Kelly and Sutton have worked their way into the discussion, and perhaps will see some playing time in select situations, the slot is still Hilton’s domain, regardless of whether or not he gets beaten a couple of times in vanilla preseason coverages. For all we know, the defense could have been working on something.
The third-year cornerback has enough tape of above the line play to stem off any sense of panic. He is still a strong run defender and is their most capable blitzer in the secondary. The fact that he’s expanding into safety territory only makes it more likely that he’ll be staying on the field, as they could roll Sean Davis down to cover a tight end or something like that.