View Full Version : Steelers cornerback William Gay finally corners the market

Galax Steeler
08-12-2009, 05:32 AM
Just as they did for most of the second half of the 2008 season, Bryant McFadden and William Gay probably will get an equal amount of playing time tomorrow night at Heinz Field.

It worked so well last season when the Steelers won the Super Bowl -- McFadden and Gay rotating every second series at right cornerback in Dick Le-Beau's top-ranked defense.

This time, though, the dynamic has changed.

McFadden will start the game, just as he did in 2008, but will be doing it for the Arizona Cardinals, who signed him to a lucrative contract in free agency. And Gay has been elevated to a full-time starter as McFadden's replacement -- a move that has been in the works since the middle of last season.

Like most of the other starters, they likely will appear for no more than two series in the preseason opener.

"I know probably something is being made about him being a starter, but there's not that vibe on this football team," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Gay. "This guy has played a bunch of football for us. He's been in a bunch of huddles at critical moments for us. It's the same with [linebacker] Lawrence [Timmons]. In the press guide, it says they're first-time starters, but it's not their first rodeo by any stretch."

McFadden is one of two departed starters -- inside linebacker Larry Foote is the other -- from last year's defense that ranked No. 1 overall and No. 1 against the pass in the NFL. But the Steelers think Gay and Timmons should actually upgrade the defense.

Gay, a fifth-round pick from Louisville in 2007, is more versatile than McFadden. Gay has good cover skills, is a solid tackler and is more physical than his size (5 feet 10, 190 pounds) would suggest. He showed that last week when he knocked rookie running back Frank "The Tank" Summers off his feet with a thundering hit, despite giving away 50 pounds.

"You always want to be a complete corner," Gay said. "When I got here, the mentality of the defense is to tackle. Not only did I want to cover receivers, I wanted to do my part and show them my toughness. That's what I strive to be: the complete cornerback.

"I just try to go out there and be a physical guy because it's a physical sport. I come from where you don't back down from nothing. I just take that mentality and put it on the field."

Now he gets a chance to do it full time. And it begins against the team that created the opening for him.

The Cardinals signed McFadden to a two-year, $10 million contract just five weeks after their Super Bowl XLIII loss to the Steelers and immediately inserted him as a starter at right cornerback opposite last year's No. 1 draft pick, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. And McFadden has been everything Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt thought he would be when he wooed McFadden to the desert.

"I'm very pleased with what he brings to the table," Whisenhunt said yesterday from the Cardinals' training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. "Besides his physical ability, it's his leadership. He's doing great."

McFadden started 12 games last season for the Steelers, including all three in the postseason, but he missed six games with a broken right forearm sustained Oct. 19 against Cincinnati. When veteran cornerback Deshea Townsend was injured the following week, Gay started four games and played so well that the coaches didn't want to take him off the field.

"When we made the move to keep Deshea healthy and said Deshea can't play every down anymore, we put Will Gay in there, and, by the end, we said, 'We can't get this guy off the field, we can't take him off the field, he's playing too well for us,' " said secondary coach Ray Horton. "When [McFadden] gets healthy, what do you do?"

Here's what the Steelers did:

When Townsend returned, he became a full-time nickel back, playing as the extra cornerback in the substitution packages. And when McFadden returned to the starting lineup Dec. 14 against the Baltimore Ravens, he began rotating every second series with Gay, an arrangement that continued right through the Super Bowl.

That's why the Steelers did not make a hard push to keep McFadden in free agency. They knew Gay was waiting to be a starter.

"He does lot of things well," Horton said. "He can cover, he can catch, he can tackle, he's a jack of all trades. He can do a little of everything well. Some guys can just do one thing ... and you try to hide them. This guy can do a little of everything well. And he's smart."

Even though the Steelers insist Gay was like a starter last season, he wasn't, and it meant one thing to the 190-pound cornerback: He didn't get to run out of the tunnel with the rest of the first-team defense in pregame introductions.

For Gay, that meant not having a chance to do some kind of dance when he is introduced. Gay said Tomlin already told him he will have the defense introduced for the regular-season opener Sept. 10 against Tennessee, just so he can do his little dance.