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Eager to doff the unconventional-for-a-cornerback No. 40 once he made an NFL regular-season roster for the first time, Mike Hilton quickly snatched the No. 31 that became available when the Steelers traded Ross Cockrell.
it was obvious Hilton was wearing an old Cockrell jersey. How so? The pinney was too long,For this week's practices, hanging below his waist.
Listed generously at 5-foot-9, Hilton almost looked like a child running around in one of his hero's jerseys.
I'm pretty sure I can jump over you.' , cornerback Artie Burns said after Friday's practice. I was saying earlier when we went on the field,We're joking all the time about him being short, I'm like
Burns was laughing but then continued.
But seriously. I'm pretty sure I can, though.
Funny, because it has been Hilton who has been doing the jumping over teammates one after another on the Steelers cornerback depth chart.
Unemployed for three months and cut twice when the Steelers added him to their practice squad in December,
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, Hilton has made an improbable run to a starting spot with a Super Bowl contender a nine-month span. And he's done it with the joy of a kid running around in a big-man jersey.
Hilton confirmed he has been getting first-team reps at nickel cornerback all week, and he is expected to play the majority of the snaps for the Steelers defense when they open the season Sunday at Cleveland.
Not bad for an undersized and undrafted player who was cut by Jacksonville and New England before mid-September of his rookie season.
and he's a smart player. So we are excited about him.,
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, said Eli Rogers,He earned it,
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, the Steelers slot receiver who likely has faced Hilton in practice more than anyone. He's earned all of our respect in the preseason because he performed well. He made some great plays. He'll stick his head in there and make a tackle
Hilton, is excited,
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, of course, too. You can tell by his ever-present smile all week before, during and after practice.
Then again, Hilton's smile has been there ever since he showed up at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the first time last December.
I just have fun, Hilton said. A lot of people forget yes, man, it's a business but it's supposed to be fun. I just don't let anybody take my joy. Just enjoy every moment.
Of course, it's a lot easier to enjoy it when you are on the active roster and playing significant roles in meaningful games.
Hilton calls the experience a whole 180 from last year being signed to a team's practice squad during its Week 14 preparations.
I had to be patient, keep my confidence high and just be ready when my time is called. And I landed with a great organization, Hilton said, and, of course, and everything has been going well for me.
The Steelers have utilized Hilton exclusively in the slot position, where he feels most comfortable because of his lateral quickness, a tackling prowess that belies his size and a propensity to engage in hand-to-hand combat with receivers at the line of scrimmage.
I feel (the slot) plays to my strengths,
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, Hilton said.
Hilton took advantage of the seven weeks he spent practicing with the Steelers down their stretch and during their run to the AFC championship game. Hilton said he used his time at home the first autumn he wasn't playing football in more than a decade to ponder his game.
I'm a lot more prepared this year, mentally and physically,
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, he said.
It's showed. Almost as soon as organized team activities began in May, Hilton stood out. Then in preseason games,
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, Hilton turned heads. Throughout training camp practices in Latrobe,
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, he made plays: 14 tackles, two sacks and no big plays from his opponents.
He's come along real good, Burns said. He's out there making plays.
Mike, pretty much,
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,he's my boy. I love Mike. Everyone in this room, does.
They like him, in part,
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, because he's gregarious and happy. But also because he's shown he can be a help to the defense.
Everyone will get their first look at Hilton in a game that matters Sunday.
It's something I have been dreaming about since I started playing football, Hilton said. And to go out for my first regular-season game with this type of organization is going to be fun. I'm going to enjoy it.
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