PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers faced Tyreek Hill twice in 2021, and the team, led by slot corners Art Maulet and Cam Sutton, mostly limited the slot speed demon.
Hill caught seven passes for a combined 76 yards over the two games in Kansas City. Now with the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers defensive backs will once again face the challenge of trying to shut down the incredibly quick Hill.
His move to Miami hasn’t slowed him down at all, and in fact, Hill is on pace for his best season as a profession. Through six games, he has 50 caches for 701 yards — tops in the NFL — and two touchdowns. He’s averaging a scorching 10.8 yards per target, and catching 77% of the passes thrown his way.
While the Dolphins have dealt with injuries to quarterbacks Tua Taogvailoa, Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson, it hasn’t mattered who has been throwing the ball, because all of them have had Hill available to them.
While Hill’s speed is evident, Maulet said it’s the speed combined with unusual toughness and competitiveness for a smaller receiver that really makes Hill tough to deal with from a defensive standpoint.
“He’s highly competitive and a strong little man,” Maulet said. “He’s not one of those guys that you can just throw around. He has the will and want-to to compete. It’s going to be a great challenge for me.”
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday, with a banged-up secondary, the Steelers played a lot of off coverage on the outside against Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, telling young corners James Pierre and Josh Jackson not to get beat deep, while trusting Maulet, Terrell Edmunds and the linebackers to make tackles underneath.
The Dolphins certainly have other players that can take the top off a defense like outside receiver Jaylen Waddle, so a similar game-plan could be in order this week, but Hill will make that much more difficult to execute because of how hard he is to tackle in space.
“That’s a guy that you have to gang tackle,” Maulet said. “We might need two or three guys to bring him down. He’s gifted like that.”
It looks like Sutton, outside cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will all be available for the Steelers on Sunday, so the team will have its full complement of defensive backs available to throw at the Dolphins attack.
What they don’t have is someone as fas as Hill to replicate him on the scout team at practice this week.
“We could put our guys in a car or on a motorcycle, but I don’t know if you can get ready for that speed,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said on Thursday. “That speed is unique. It’s not just him, you’ve got Waddle across from him. I mean, those guys can really run.”
The Steelers went out and got wide receiver Josh Malone to add to their practice squad this week. Malone ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the NFL combine before spending a few years with the Cincinnati Bengals. But even he admits that Hill probably has him beat, speed-wise.
“I think he might have got me,” Malone said. “It’s been a minute since I ran straight speed on speed. I think he got me.”
Malone spent two seasons with the Bengals after being a fourth-round pick there in 2017 and two seasons with the Jets from 2019-20. Since then, he’s bounced around to a couple teams.
He was a teammate of Maulet’s in 2020 in New York, and he hopes he’s able to give him another good look at Hill, to keep Maulet’s personal success streak against one of the top slot threats in the NFL going, and hopefully, to catch the eye of the Steelers brass, as well.
“It’s been fun,” said Malone, who is No. 80 on the Steelers roster, but has been wearing Hill’s No. 10 jersey in practice this week. “Tyreek is moving all over the field, taking the top off. He gets a lot of different routes, so it’s been fun just working and also showing the team what I can do.”
If Malone can get Maulet and Sutton ready enough that they shut down Hill for a third time, he might have earned a bigger role in the future.