Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton has spent time with arguably the top three teams in the AFC over the course of his young career. Prior to joining Pittsburgh’s practice squad late last season, he was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When he was released by the Jaguars at the end of the preseason, the New England Patriots signed him to their practice squad, though he was only there for about a week. The team had acquired Eric Rowe via trade the day after signing him, and injuries at other positions further complicated the numbers game.
While he has already gotten to play against one former team—now as a starter for the Steelers—Hilton is hoping to come out of his second ‘revenge’ game, so to speak, with a win, as the Jacksonville game is one of just two the team has lost this season.
What he doesn’t have to worry about, however, is earning the respect of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who during a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters yesterday said that he is a player that would have liked to have kept if the numbers worked out.
According to Chris Adamski, Belichick described the Ole Miss product as “a very competitive player” who is “very smart, instinctive”. He said that he “loved working with him”, albeit for just a week, and that he “loved his attitude and toughness”.
The Patriots of course are not unfamiliar with finding quality cornerbacks among the undrafted ranks, as they have one in their starting lineup in the form of Malcolm Butler, who is in his fourth NFL season now and helped seal a Super Bowl win as a rookie with a game-ending goal-line interception.
Hilton appreciated Belichick’s remarks, commenting on them via Twitter. “Respect!”, he wrote, calling him “one of the best to coach the game”. Say what you will about the man, but he undeniably is just that, and even that may be an understatement.
But not everything Belichick touches turns to gold, nor is everything that he casts aside of low value. The Steelers are certainly glad that he couldn’t figure out how to make the numbers work a year ago, which prompted him to release him. Hilton spent months out of football unsigned before Pittsburgh came calling.
Known from his playing days in college paired with Senquez Golson, who was still a member of the team at the time, Hilton has basically come in and become exactly what the Steelers were hoping to have gotten in their 2015 second-round draft pick.
On the season, the first-year nickel cornerback has logged 48 tackles to go along with two interceptions, three passes defensed, and a sack. He has a number of tackles in the run game, and his one sack is not indicative of his overall effectiveness as a blitzer, and his sparse number of defended passes merely shows how generally infrequently he is targeted.