You’ll have to excuse me if I seem a little out of sorts, following the Steelers 34-6 victory over the Texans on Christmas Day, a win that clinched at least a bye into the Divisional Round of the 2017/18 postseason.
- I’m out of sorts because I don’t know if I watched a live NFL game, or a video game, namely Ninento’s old Tecmo Bowl.
You remember Tecmo Bowl, don’t you? The football video game that emulated NFL teams and players from the 1990’s.
Like I’m sure most young Pittsburghers during that era, I often picked the Steelers as my team when going against the computer or, more enjoyably, my little brother.
As is common with most video games, you could choose a player to control on your own, and I often picked Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson.
- Why? Because, much like in real life, there was nothing you couldn’t do with that guy–including rush the opposing passer as often as you liked.
As I watched Steelers newly-minted slot corner sensation Mike Hilton rush Houston quarterbacks time-and-time again on Monday (eight times, to be exact) and record three sacks, I couldn’t help but think back to my youth as a bit of a gamer.
But while Hilton became just the third Steelers defensive back to record three sacks in a game–tying safeties Troy Polamalu and Carnell Lake for the franchise mark–he did something in real life that no other cornerback in NFL history–including Woodson–has ever done outside of a video game.
That’s right, Hilton became the first cornerback in league history to post three sacks in a game since the NFL began recording it as an official statistic in 1982. Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has long had a knack for finding gems as Undrafted Rookie Free Agents and street free agents.
- And Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton is the latest example. Hilton, who, like 2015 second round pick Senquez Golson, played his college ball at Ole Miss.
However, unlike Golson, who never played a meaningful down for the Steelers due to battling various injuries, Hilton took advantage of the chance the Steelers gave him.
After signing with the Jaguars as an UDFA in 2016, Hilton soon found himself on the Patriots practice squad, before winding up on Pittsburgh’s by the end of the season.
Coming into the 2017 training camp, there was great buzz about Hilton and what he could possibly bring to the Steelers secondary.
But isn’t every training camp filled with young unknowns with low pedigree who excite fans that are forever in-love with the underdog?
- Yet, that buzz never subsided, and even Hilton’s coaches and teammates couldn’t help gushing over him.
And it didn’t take long–about a quarter into the Steelers first preseason game, actually–before it became apparent that, not only was Hilton likely to land on his first NFL roster, the Steelers had huge plans for him to be their starting slot corner, a position once earmarked for his former college teammate, Golson.
Not only did Hilton earn that starting corner slot, through 15 games of his rookie season, he has excelled at the position, with a total of two interceptions, five passed defensed, a forced fumble, 39 tackles and a total of four quarterback sacks.
Nobody’s draft record is perfect–including Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. And it’s clear he missed on Golson, if not in-terms of assessing his talent, then, perhaps, in assessing his durability.
- But if you’re going to miss on a high draft pick, you better make up for it somewhere else.
After years of struggling to find the right pieces, the Steelers now appear to have a secondary that’s close to being complete.
The unit now includes a young and promising safety in Sean Davis, playing alongside veteran Mike Mitchell, a calculated free-agent signing in 2014. The corner position is comprised of young, aggressive and also promising Artie Burns, along with accomplished veteran Joe Haden, a gift of a free-agent acquisition who miraculously fell into Pittsburgh’s lap right before the start of the season.
And, to round it all out, the Steelers now appear to have Mike Hilton as their very promising slot corner, a formerly unknown UDFA who excited fans at the onset of training camp, and is still leaving them giddy, just weeks away from the start of the postseason.
I love it when a plan comes together.