I was not particularly enthralled when Pittsburgh’s front office inked William Gay to a three-year deal this spring. Although he had some positive moments during his first stint with the Steelers, Gay was the target of abuse for many opposing signal-callers and Pittsburgh’s fans alike for his inconsistent play (especially as a starter).
After Keenan Lewis left town for New Orleans earlier this offseason though, the Steelers needed to add some depth at the cornerback position. Thus, it came as no surprise when Pittsburgh re-signed Gay, especially since he already possessed so much familiarity with Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme.
While Gay was already expected to assume the role as the team’s nickel back behind Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, the veteran must be ready to start at a moment’s notice if Allen’s recent knee surgery gives him problems going forward in 2013.
Last year, Gay was picked on mercilessly as Arizona’s other starting cornerback not named Patrick Peterson. Instead of throwing at the Pro Bowler, opposing quarterbacks picked on Gay instead to the tune of 726 passing yards in 2012. That sort of trend was probably nothing new to Gay, especially since he played opposite Ike Taylor (who was in his prime at the time) for chunks of time during the 2009-2011 seasons.
It will be tough enough for the former Louisville Cardinal to play effectively against team’s number one and number two wide receivers if Allen is sidelined. What Gay must also do this fall is stay healthy, because the depth behind him is inexperienced and also hobbled.
Curtis Brown’s stints of action last fall at cornerback were “disastrous” at best, particularly his meltdown against the Chargers in Week 14. Josh Victorian gained some much needed experience down the stretch, yet he is not ready to challenge a veteran like Gay for playing time.
Behind Brown and Victorian, the Steelers would have to turn to the also-injured Terry Hawthorne and DeMarcus Van Dyke. If those two cannot stay healthy, then a couple of former UDFA’s in the forms of Isaiah Green and the recently signed Ryan Steed will likely rise up the depth chart.
If Allen and Taylor miss chunks of time this year, Pittsburgh’s secondary will be mercilessly picked apart by opposing offenses if they are forced to employ three, four, and five cornerback sets. Things will only be more of a mess for the Steelers if Gay is on the field against bigger and more physical pass-catchers, and I think that we all remember how mercilessly Rob Gronkowski beat him back in 2011.
At this point, all we can do is hope that Allen can recover quickly from the minor operation on his knee. Most of all though, let us hope that the “knee discomfort” does not become a nagging injury for Pittsburgh’s starting cornerback.
Otherwise, the edges and back-end of the Steelers’ “Paper Champions” defense will be ripe for the plundering through the air this fall.
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