Steelers Takeaways author Ron Lippock spoke to Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton this offseason about a variety of topics, from what it’s like being an undrafted free agent, the new additions of Steven Nelson and Mark Barron to whether or not the team watches what their rivals in the division are doing.
First, what’s the focus for you this offseason – anything specific you’re working on?
For me, it’s the mental aspect of the game. I think I missed too many plays last year and gave up too many big plays because I was thinking too much on the field. I just need to slow down and digest things more. I’m going to watch a lot of film this offseason and see and learn from the mistakes I made last year and from the plays I missed.
What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh in 2016 as an undrafted fee agent? And how has being an undrafted free agent helped to motivate you?
They gave me the opportunity. They had me go up against their top guys – AB and JuJu – and let me show them what I was capable of. And I ran with the opportunity, They gave me that opportunity to prove myself and I feel like that’s what I needed.
As an undrafted free agent you feel like you have something to prove. You take nothing for granted. Being drafted is a dream every kid has since they started playing football. But I’m not the first or the last to go through not being drafted. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to prove myself and my worth.
Did anyone help mentor you when you got there – and how so?
William Gay – me being the nickel back behind him. We grew real close. He was a guy I grew up watching and knowing – the type of player and position I played.
He was a big help for me learning the game. As an undrafted free agent, I had a lot to prove. He showed me the steps I needed to take to improve – how to watch film and care for my body. He helped me learn the system. Hr sat with me and helped me to see things better. We connected that way – he helped me.
As you become a veteran player yourself, how much do you appreciate that kind of mentorship and welcome the chance to play that same role as you become more experienced?
I appreciate it. It’s a business. He was there to help me and to show me the ropes. To take those steps to help me. As I get deeper in my career I’ll look forward to playing that role. I’m still learning the process. I’m looking forward to taking those things and giving that help to guys as they come in or guys that are already there. It’s all about doing what we can to help improve the team.
Speaking of improving the team, they brought in a couple of free agents to help the defense this offseason. Any thoughts on Nelson and Barron?
They were both positions of need – we needed them both. The coaches did a good job brining in those guys. Being an athlete, I’ve watched them both play. Steve is a playmaker. He’s a young guy and still learning. Mark is the inside linebacker we needed. He can go sideline to sideline. He can defend the run and cover running backs and tight ends.
Both were brought in to help create more turnovers as well. How does this defense improve in that area – what can you do and how much is about luck?
Luck is part of the game but we missed out on a lot of opportunities. Some things just didn’t go our way, but you have to force turnovers. If the ball is tipped, you have to bring it down. And try to strip the ball more. We’re capable of doing it, But nothing is given to you as an NFL athlete.
What can you do specifically to help in this area?
I think instead of getting guys to the ground, I can hold defenders up more and give guys the opportunity to strip the ball more. We can be more ball aware and be less about the big hits. It’s more about getting the ball. We have an explosive offense. If we can give them more opportunities we’ll win more games.
Any fun memories you can share of your time in Pittsburgh so far?
Just the usual. The cornerbacks have a Christmas exchange and it’s always fun to see what gifts everyone gets – to be surprised at who gets what. It makes for a fun atmosphere. It happens later in the season but it’s another way it helps chemistry.
Speaking of chemistry – a lot of offseason distractions this offseason. How did those affect you and how can they help you moving forward?
We’ve been dealing with stuff yeah. We gave the media the wrong reasons to talk about us and it doesn’t help when you start struggling and are losing games. It’s given us the opportunity though to prove our worth and be a top team and win a Super Bowl. The guys know it’s about one whole effort for this team.
Are you paying attention to the moves the rest of the divisional rivals are making?
Oh yeah you pay attention – especially to teams in your division. It helps you to understand what schemes they may be playing. But the games still have to be played. it’s going to be an exciting season – I’m ready for it!
Any thoughts or hopes on scheme changes the defense may take on with the new guys on the roster and new coaches?
It’s too early to tell. I’m sure the guys we brought in – the coaches will find ways to put guys in the best positions to make plays. Between Joe, Steve, and me – I think we have three cornerbacks that can match up with any wide receivers in the league.
Have you spoken to any of the coaches – especially any of the new guys this offseason about changes to the scheme and expectations for you?
I haven’t yet but I’ll be back in Pittsburgh soon and we’ll sit down and discuss and chat about what the plan will be. I’m excited about the opportunity to meet the new coaches and to see what they have to offer.
And if they draft a corner high in the draft – any thoughts on where they would fit in and how they could contribute?
There’s always room for improvement. If the team feels the best pick is a cornerback, we’ll welcome him in and get him on track. We’ll be excited to have him. Whatever it is they do – whoever they bring in – we’ll accept them and make sure he helps us win a championship.
Now, it’s up in the air who I think they could take. Free agency was big for us to help fix some positions we had needs in. But no matter who they take – even if it’s another inside linebacker or cornerback – they will help us win.
I know you’re due a new contract soon – is that on your mind at all as you prepare for 2019?
It has crossed my mind yes but I focus on controlling what I can control. That’s up to my agent to take care of that. I’ll just play hard and do what i can do to improve.
Any last thoughts for fans?
Just to get ready for a fun and exciting season. Don’t count us out!