Mike Hilton, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ slot cornerback, has four tackles for loss with two sacks on the season, the third-most on the team. Vince Williams, their buck linebacker, has eight tackles for loss, so far the most in the NFL through three weeks, with two sacks.
You could argue that neither of them are ‘full-time’ players. Hilton has played 134 snaps on the season, or 70 percent for the Steelers on defense. Williams has played 137 snaps, which translates to about 71 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. But when they are on the field, they make an impact. They also rank first and fourth in team tackles, with Devin Bush and Terrell Edmunds in between them.
What fuels them? Well, a friendly rivalry doesn’t hurt. “Me and Vince got a little competition”, Hilton told reporters earlier today. “We know where we play in this defense, and that’s getting to the quarterback, getting ball-carriers down behind the line of scrimmage. Vince is the top guy in the league right now, and he shows why every Sunday”.
Hilton, originally signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as a college free agent in 2016 who wound up on the Steelers’ practice squad by the end of the year, first made the team in 2017. He rotated with William Gay as the primary slot defender in the opening game that year, but by halftime secured the job for himself, and he’s never let it go since.
Williams was a sixth-round pick back in 2013, and is now the second-longest-tenured defender on the team behind Cameron Heyward. He ended up in a quasi-starting role that year after Larry Foote was injured in the opener, though they primarily played in the dime that season.
The following year, they drafted Ryan Shazier to start over him. Years later, he talked about how that hurt, that he felt like he earned the chance to start. After Lawrence Timmons left in free agency, he did get back to starting in 2017-18, but then in 2019, they added Bush and Mark Barron, reducing his role again.
“You can tell it didn’t bother him”, Hilton said about moving back down the pecking order last year. “He’s a veteran. He’s been on this road before. As you can see, now that he’s back in the starting lineup, he’s communicating well, he’s flying around making a lot of plays for us”.
Williams only played about 400 snaps last year, though he also missed two games due to injury. He’s on pace for his usual number of snaps this season when he does start, in the area of 750 snaps, and he’s playing like he doesn’t want to lose that spot any time soon. As is Hilton.