In a game that moves at lightning speed, having it slow down can be one of the best things that happens for a young player.
And that was just the case last season for Mike Hilton, the cornerback who is entering his third season in the league.
“The game definitely slowed down for me,” said Hilton. “It’s big. You are starting to see things easier. You are starting to make reads easier. When the game slows down more plays are out there for you to make. I think I improved there this past year.
“The more you play, the more you see, the more it all slows down. You’re able to break down plays and routes. It gives you a better opportunity to make plays on the ball. Through OTAs and minicamp, I have been making plays.
“There are always things I can get better at. There were plays I left out on the field last year, and I don’t want to do that again.”
Those plays he left out there that Hilton referred to are splash plays. The ones he was making his first season when he had four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Those didn’t come last year, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t having an impact, it was just in a different manner.
“When people are used to seeing splash plays from you, they expect the same thing,” said Hilton. “It’s tough because teams prepare for you also. I was getting pointed out blitz wise, even when I wasn’t blitzing. I was alerted more from the quarterbacks. Teams were finding ways to attack me in different ways.
“All of the sacks I had that first year, I only got one last year. But I got pressure on the quarterback. Those things matter. But on defense we don’t get the touchdowns, but if we can make an interception or sack, we want that. We want to make those splash plays. It’s still tough when you are missing out on those plays you think you could be making and could be a factor.”
Hilton said it wasn’t frustrating that teams were playing him differently, but it was more of a compliment that they considered him someone they had to be alert for and know where he was.
“Teams are aware of you and have to prepare for you,” said Hilton. “It’s upsetting that I didn’t get to make as many plays, but it’s also a compliment because teams are preparing for me. I know I am making some type of impact.”
Continuing to make that impact is crucial for him. Hilton spent the offseason taking a good, long look in the mirror to see what he can do to help the defense improve this year.
“You have to work on things you felt like you lacked in,” said Hilton. “You can watch film and see what you did wrong. Taking the steps to improve your game. You know the other 10 guys are going to be there for you and do the same.”
And being there is what he did this offseason. Hilton was a regular for all of the offseason workouts, not skipping one even though he is an exclusive rights free agent who hasn’t signed his tender yet. He also has plans on being at training camp and a holdout hasn't entered his mind.
“I want to be a part of this team,” said Hilton. “I want to help bring the Steelers a championship. The Steelers are a historical organization. I love it here. I want to stay as long as possible. I am trying to show everybody I want to be here.”