PITTSBURGH — The Steelers knew they were taking a tough blow after losing Mike Hilton to the Bengals in the 2021 offseason. However, the potential replacements on the roster are an intriguing story.
In the Steelers’ first official depth chart, second-year safety Antoine Brooks Jr. was listed as the starter at the Nickel spot and locked in a battle with Arthur Maulet. Replacing Hilton is no easy task, and Brooks knows that.
“I watched (Hilton’s) game all the time,” Brooks said. “He’s one of the best blitzers to ever put on a Steelers uniform. I’m grateful for everything I learned while he was here.”
For Brooks, there are a few elements of Hilton’s game that he has to replace. One of the most obvious is Hilton’s blitzing prowess. It’s that physicality that Brooks thinks can take him to the next level as a potential starting slot cornerback.
“I really like to blitz, that’s the physicality in my game,” Brooks said. “You know blitz, cover that was all Mike’s game. So I’m going to try and fill his shoes.”
While Hilton was here, there are some things that made him such a strong blitzer. Most importantly, the timing of his blitzing to create five man surfaces for the other guys up front. This, Brooks says, is one of his main focuses this offseason.
“Mike was a big film watcher, and he told me a lot about timing,” Brooks said. “You know, about the play clock, the quarterback, motions, all of that. You know, I talked a little bit more with Mike T and he told me some more.”
As those keys are what Brooks mentioned above, he went a little bit more in depth on just how he keys in on those blitzes.
”You know, if the play clock goes to eight, that’s one of them,” Brooks said. “Some quarterbacks will do a foot up or a foot down. And you especially off the motion. If a team motions the jet or motions somewhere else, that’s a big tell.”
Hilton also was used as a deep third safety at times. That is a bit of a new role for Brooks, who was often used in the slot at Maryland. However, Brooks says he feels comfortable with those rotations.
“I feel good,” Brooks said. “Playing safety you go to the third, you go to the half. You just have to be an athlete, move, and be ready to put your hand in that pile.”
Also of note is that Brooks is far down from his weight of 220 coming out of college. He now says he hovers at 200 to 205. Thus far, it’s been an exciting offseason for Brooks, even if living up to the expectations of replacing Hilton will be a bit daunting.