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The Conversation: Bengals Officially Turn To Mike Hilton:  'I Kind Of Feel Like I Was A Captain Before I Got This Honor' 

CB Mike Hilton laughs during day 2 of Training Camp 2023 at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Thursday, July 27 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
CB Mike Hilton laughs during day 2 of Training Camp 2023 at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Thursday, July 27 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The first of senior writer Geoff Hobson's weekly conversations with Bengals personalities. On Monday, veteran slot cornerback Mike Hilton was voted a captain for the first time in his three seasons in Cincinnati as they prep for Sunday's opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Cleveland.

GH: When was the last time you were a captain?

MH: My senior year at Ole Miss when I won the Chucky Mullins (Memorial Courage) Award in the spring and I became captain my senior year.

GH: Did it surprise you?

MH: It did because I wasn't expecting it, honestly. At the same time it didn't because I felt like I was gaining the respect over these couple of years from my teammates and coaches. They felt like the time was right for me this year to become a captain. It's well appreciated.

GH: How did you find out?

MH: They just called us up at the end of practice and told us, No. 1, what to expect the rest of the week. And then Zac (Taylor) announced us name by name.

GH: What were your emotions?

MH: I was excited, obviously. Coming from an undrafted guy to now being captain of a Super Bowl contender, it's a blessing to be in this situation and I appreciate all the respect the guys have given to me and what I put toward this team.

GH: How different is being a captain the NFL?

MH: It means a lot more. You're getting the respect of your peers and the guys you go to war with.  They look at you as somebody who leads them the right way and helps them get wins and contributes to the team.

GH: You've been on a bunch of playoff teams. Who is the best captain you ever saw in the NFL?

MH: Probably back when I was in Pittsburgh. Cam Heyward. One of the best to do it at his position. Future Hall of Famer. The way he carried himself through my years. Even though we played different positions, I just watched how he talked to his teammates and just got the respect from those guys. He was a guy I was excited to be around.

GH: How did he do it? How did he earn their respect?

MH: Just being a vocal guy. Obviously going out there and being dominant on the field and making plays and being the guy in the community that the city loves being around. I just picked his brain about all that type of stuff and kind of just watched how he went about his business.

GH: What do you think a captain's role is?

MH: Be that vocal guy. Be that vocal guy that can keep everybody laser focused even when things are bad. A guy they look to, to make big plays in big situations. I feel like I fit that bill perfectly for this team and the guys that voted me as captain.

GH: You're the only one of the six who is a new captain here.

MH: I'm the newbie of the captain group.

GH: Why now do you think?

MH: The time was right. Ever since I came over here two years ago I

feel like I've been a big piece of this turnaround and the guys felt the same way. Going into my third year here, the guys respect me and know what I bring to the table. It was set up to happen this year it seems like.

GH: How different is it from when you woke up this morning? Is it suddenly different now that you're a captain?

MH: No, not really. I kind of feel like I was a captain before I got this honor. I'm not going to do anything differently. The team sees me as a guy they lean on. That's who I am. I'm going to be a playmaker. I'm going to be a vocal leader. You've got to keep the guys rallied and settled down. I'm not going to do anything differently. I'm just going to be myself.

GH: Your fellow defensive captains, nose tackle DJ Reader and left end Sam Hubbard, are back for another term.

MH: Two of the best in the biz. They've been around it longer than me. I have a lot of respect for those guys and obviously the locker room does also. Being a part of the defensive captain crew with those guys, it's a big honor.

GH: We've talked about your dad before. He's a military guy and he's the guy that formed your character.

MH: Definitely. You know, he wasn't just a very strict guy. He kept us in line. He always just told me and my brother how to get active in the community and be a leader no matter what you're doing. Playing football or working a regular nine-to-five. Just lead by example. Just be the person that the organization wants to rally around.

GH: Your dad was an electronics expert in the Navy. Did he ever make captain? Do you outrank him now?

MH: No, he wasn't a captain. I'm pretty sure when I call him today we'll have that discussion.

GH: Are you going to make him call you 'Captain?'

MH: No, he's still the top dog in our household. It will be an exciting call. I'm pretty sure he already knows. When we get on the phone we'll have a good conversation about it.

GH: How did he contribute to this moment?

MH: He helped me get to where I am. He did a lot with my mom taking me to camps, taking me to games, just giving me the opportunity to do what I love to do. What they instilled in me growing up, I'm able to put that on the field and off the field in the community. It's because of them I am where I am.

GH: Do you think this defense is better than last year?

MH: Definitely. Obviously, we lost some good pieces with our safeties, but I feel like our depth is better than it has been over the last two years. We have a lot of guys that can step in and contribute, and we don't lose a beat. We're excited to get it rolling.

GH: How do you make up for the loss of safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell?

MH: Just be better in our other positions. The good thing about it is me, Chido (Awuzie), and Cam (Taylor-Britt). We've played together, we've got some experience together. We can make it easy on the guys in the safety room.

Obviously, we're loaded in the middle (at linebacker) and it definitely makes it easier around the whole defense. Our other nine guys making it easier for the back two.

GH: Is there anything defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has done to get he best out of your game?

MH: Obviously my blitzing is what it is. But he just instilled confidence in me. Just really letting me roam and be the playmaker I know I am.

Even if he calls a certain thing and during the play I see something and take a chance, he's all right with it. As long as I make the play, obviously. He's giving me that freedom and that opportunity to be who I am.

GH: Are there any plays you think about from last year's AFC championship game that fuel you for this season?

MH: I think they were right outside the 20. It was a third-and-10. It was a touchdown he (Marquez Valdes-Scantling) caught an in-route. We got pressure on (Patrick) Mahomes. He stepped up. I was a little behind. That's definitely one I wish I could get back. But I'm not dwelling on it. It's a whole new year. I'm a whole new ballplayer. Still confident as ever and I'm ready to go out there and prove I'm one of the best.

GH: So you're not one of these guys that's using something like that as an incentive.

MH: No, no. That's last year. You hold on to that, you might not be able to play to your full abilities. That's something I've learned as a player. You let the bad go because you have another opportunity to go out there and make plays. That's what I do, so I'm excited for this Sunday.

GH: You think you're a better player this year?

MH: Absolutely. Absolutely. Just as far as my mental game. Going into my third year, knowing Lou's system and really figuring out how teams are going to attack. I come up with different ways to put myself in different positions to make plays. I'm confident as ever and ready to go out there and play ball.

GH: If there was a Player of Training Camp, it probably would have been you. Do you chalk that up to just knowing the system and players for three years and knowing what everybody is running?

MH: All of the above. Knowing who I'm playing with and knowing I have the opportunity to go make plays when it's

really not set up for me to make a play. It

starts with my confidence and it starts with Lou's trust in my ability to be who I am.

GH: You guys haven't had a lot of success against Cleveland lately. How do you beat them? Deshaun Watson is a dangerous quarterback.

MH: No. 1, it starts with (running back) Nick Chubb. Obviously, we know who they have at quarterback and he's got another year in the system. But the Cleveland Browns run through Nick Chubb and we know he's probably the best back in all of football. We have to try and make them one-dimensional and put it in Watson's hands. We feel confident going into that. We know it's going to start with Chubb. We just have to turn him back early.

GH: Do we make too much of an opener? Is it just one game?

MH: It's very important. It's a division game. For us to get to the playoffs, we have to win our division. That's No. 1.

GH: How happy are you for Chido getting back for the opener after tearing his ACL up there last year?

MH: Everybody is excited for him. Just to have his energy back out there. How hard he's been working to come back from that injury. We're excited to see him go out there Sunday and really be who he is.

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