The preseason is a great time for unknown fringe roster players to make a name for themselves. It is always fun watching the rookies, and while T.J. Watt impressed, Mike Hilton may end up being the big winner from the Steelers first preseason game. He set himself onto a path that may wind up placing him on the 53-man roster, somewhere he was not to start training camp.
Mike Hilton Making Push for 53-man Roster
Hilton did it all on Friday night. Early into the game, he was used on special teams as a gunner. He recorded the first stop of the night on a punt. On top of that he wound up with multiple special teams tackles. Hilton was the first one down the field to make contact with returner Travis Rudolph when he was stripped of the ball. Hilton was in the right place at the right time, stayed aware, and was able to recover the fumble on a bounce. This capped off a stellar special teams night for Hilton.
On top of that, Hilton made multiple plays on defense. Hilton spent the majority of his night in the slot. Late into the second quarter, the Steelers called up a blitz for Hilton to rush in off of the edge from the slot. Hilton played it perfectly, shot through the hole and recorded a third down sack to end a drive. Talk about taking advantage of opportunities.
Hilton continued to shine near the line of scrimmage on defense. On a fourth and short, it was Hilton again flying off of the edge and getting into the backfield to make a huge stop and hold the Giants short of a first down.
It was a not pick-six or anything to set off the alarms, but these were important plays to show that Hilton belongs in the NFL. His awareness of the situations of the game and his toughness to stick his head into plays near the line of scrimmage stand out.
Path to the Roster
The Steelers do not have the most stable cornerback group. Ross Cockrell, Artie Burns, and William Gay are likely the only locks to make the roster as of now. Cameron Sutton sat out the first preseason game, but given the third round pick that was invested in the rookie from Tennessee, he should be feeling comfortable about his status. Coty Sensabaugh saw the field early and often as well, but he played on the outside much more than the slot. The same can be said with rookie fifth round pick Brian Allen.
So while Allen and Sensabaugh may be competing for the last outside spot, it could be Hilton sneaking in and taking one of their roster spots due to his value in the slot. The Steelers expected this job to be won by former second round pick Senquez Golson. However, Golson has been hurt and has failed to practice, essentially making him a dead-man walking in terms of the final roster. Hilton, a fellow undersized former Ole Miss cornerback may be stepping in for his hyped up college teammate.
Hilton was the best of the bottom three players in the team’s first preseason game, and his ability to contribute on special teams on top of defense is going to help make a strong case for his roster standing. No matter what, Hilton will be the must-follow player of the Steelers remaining three preseason games, as he slowly makes his climb up the depth chart and onto the Steelers 53-man roster.