Steelers will look to William Gay to be a leader on defense


The Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary took another hit to its depth chart on Monday when Ike Taylor announced he would be hanging up his cleats after a twelve year stint with the team.

It wasn’t expected that the organization would resign him for 2015 after basically giving him the ultimatum to take a pay cut or be released before the start of last season, but it is still unsettling that yet another veteran presence is lost.

Its difficult to replace the experience that comes with a player that has two Super Bowl rings and a decade long career. The Steelers will be asking much of their new longest tenured cornerback to have a repeat performance of his 2014 campaign.

William Gay wasn’t expected to make the significant impact that he did last season. Taylor was brought back for an encore season and Cortez Allen looked to be shaping up for being his eventual successor. Gay was that veteran presence who could come in during an emergency and play the nickel slot well.

It didnt play out exactly like that. A broken forearm in week three sidelined Taylor, and he never quite recovered from it for the rest of the year. As for Allen….I really don’t have to explain it to you if you are a Steelers’ fan. If you’re not, think of a gruesome murder scene in your favorite horror movie.

Gay would start the next thirteen games for the Steelers. He played all over the field in an attempt to make up for the depth lost, and was very successful in his efforts. Though the Steelers were ranked 27th against the pass in the NFL, it didn’t mean they were not productive.

He would led the NFL in interceptions returned for touchdowns (3) and help tie with the Houston Texans for team total (4). Coming off of perhaps the best season of his career, Gay enters his ninth year in the league with a multitude of responsibilities.

Not only may he have the task of covering opposing teams’ best wide receivers next year, but becoming a mentor to a group of young corners that accompany him and ensuring that they flourish into future stars of Pittsburgh’s defense.

Antwon Blake is a young player on the rise that could be starting alongside him that he can continue to mold into a productive member of the Steelers’ secondary. It will be up to him if he can step up to the occasion, but Gay will play a vital role in this young man’s development.

Cortez Allen is a player who seems to have lost his confidence after being stripped of his starting role and then placed on the injured/reserve list. Instilling the confidence in him that he can, in time, reclaim his starting role will go a long way in getting him back on the field and to being the defensive back that the believed him to be when they gave him a long-term contract.

While he may be a mentor, he will also be fighting for a job. In comparison to the teams current depth chart he has the advantage, but, if the Steelers select a talented cornerback with their first round pick, he could find himself facing a difficult challenge against a younger, talented player.

Gay is not a shutdown corner by any means. For as many spectacular plays he made last year, there were just as many where he was overwhelmed by talented receivers and completely taken advantage of.

Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay (22) reacts during player introductions against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A prime example of this is was in Pittsburgh’s final second loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week four of last season. Failing to properly cover wide receiver Vincent Jackson would lead to a loss that signified the Steelers’ issues at cornerback early on.

Where he is not lacking is in heart and determination. Just like Taylor, and many Steelers corners before him, he is a mid round draft pick selection that has risen through the ranks to become a starter on his defense.

He will continue to train and redouble his efforts to improve on his mistakes. He will have to, because the organization will by relying on him to be a leader on a defense that has lost three veterans this offseason.

William Gay may not be the elite cornerback the Steelers are in need of, but it does not make his role on their defense any less important.  His knowledge of the defense, experience against top tier receivers, and determination to see his team succeed will be invaluable going forward as the team rebuilds its secondary.

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