View Full Version : Cook: Gay is Steelers' most improved player

10-15-2010, 07:21 AM
Cook: Gay is Steelers' most improved player
Friday, October 15, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It's easy to pick the Steelers' best player as their season gets ready to roll past the quarter-pole Sunday with a home game against the Cleveland Browns. Apologies to Rashard Mendenhall, Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu; it's linebacker Lawrence Timmons. He's been terrific. "A special player, a blur on the screen," coach Mike Tomlin has called him.

It's even easier to name the Steelers' most improved player. There's only one candidate, really. Cornerback William Gay.

Man, I love Gay's story.

He was a key part of the Steelers' Super Bowl team in 2008, alternating series with Bryant McFadden. He was the weak link in the defense last season as the starter after McFadden left for Arizona as a free agent. He has become important again as the nickel back this season with McFadden back as the starter.

It's an amazing story.

An uplifting story.

All NFL players have egos. They don't make it to that level of football without one. Yet, Gay has managed to set aside his ego for the good of the team. You've heard Tomlin mention time and again that each player has to put his hand in the pile? Gay has put in both hands. Instead of sulking about losing his starting job to Deshea Townsend late last season and then to McFadden this season, he has worked to become the best nickel he can be.

Did I mention I love Gay's story?

So does Tomlin.

"He's been a consummate professional, a team player," Tomlin said. "He's fallen back to a sub-package role and he hasn't muttered a peep. He works extremely hard, always is ready and is into the game. He's making plays. I'm happy for him. I'm excited for him."

Gay showed me something this week when I asked him if he was upset when the Steelers traded a fifth-round pick to Arizona for McFadden on draft weekend, a clear indication they weren't happy with his play last season. You should have seen his expression. It was as if I insulted a close family member. "Upset? Why should I be upset? He's a friend. There's nothing to be mad about," Gay said.

I tried to explain my theory about egos and how much it has to hurt to lose a starting job. Gay wanted nothing to do with that. Politely, but firmly, he said, "There's no selfishness from me. I'm not the kind of guy who's going to sit around and cry about who they bring in. For me, it's all about, 'Let's go win a championship.' "

You know that corny, old saying?

It's not your circumstances, it's your attitude.

Gay is proof it's true.

The Steelers are 3-1 and in position to compete for that championship, thanks mostly to the defense, which carried the team during quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension. It has hardly been surprising that Timmons and the rest have been stout against the run, the best in the NFL. But the secondary has been better than anyone could have imagined. It has allowed just nine passes of 20 yards or more after being torched for 46 last season.

A healthy Polamalu at safety has been the biggest part of that. He missed all but five games last season with knee injuries. McFadden also has helped after never quite fitting in with the Cardinals. He has been solid except for allowing the winning touchdown pass to the Baltimore Ravens Oct. 3 when receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh beat him with a double move.

Gay has been the big surprise. Tomlin wasn't kidding when he said he's making plays. In the win Sept. 26 at Tampa Bay, Gay made perhaps the biggest tackle of the game when he stopped wide receiver Sammie Stroughter for a 2-yard gain on a third-and-3 play from the Steelers' 24 early in the first quarter to force a field goal. He later sacked quarterback Josh Freeman in that game. In the loss to Baltimore, Gay broke up a pass for wide receiver Derrick Mason on third down from the Steelers' 2 late in the game, then another for wide receiver Anquan Boldin on fourth down. Unfortunately for the Steelers, the Ravens got the ball back and won on Houshmandzadeh's catch.

"I should be better. This is my fourth year around here," Gay said. "I've seen a lot of offenses. I know [defensive coordinator] Dick LeBeau's defense. Being better mentally helps with the physical part of the game."

Gay won't turn 26 until New Year's Day.

"I know I'm going to get another chance to be a starter in this league," he said.

Told of that remark, LeBeau said, "In my mind, he's already a starter. If you add up his snaps at the end of the year, they'll be starter's snaps. I couldn't be happier with the way he's playing."

Wouldn't you know it?

LeBeau loves Gay's story, too.
Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10288/1095325-66.stm#ixzz12N26NMzs

10-15-2010, 07:45 AM
I was one of those people that wanted this kid ran out of town last year because I failed to remember how well he played in 2008. I'm glad that cooler heads than mine run the Steelers because Willie Gay has played some good football so far this year and I'm happy for him.

Had we converted a first down at the end of the game against the Ravens, the accolades would have gone to Gay for breaking up two passes in the end zone on the prior Ravens drive.

10-15-2010, 09:04 AM
I disagree with Cook! Gay has repeatadly played well when not a starting cb. He plays so well, so when comes in once in a while. As a starter he sucked, thats why we got Mcfadden back. Is he playing well in his limited role, YES! Timmons,. to me, has step his game up. I think after four games, Timmons is finally playing like a 1st round pick.

10-15-2010, 04:26 PM
Its funny because as a nickel corner he's arguably the best in the league, but as a normal starter he's arguably the worst...

10-15-2010, 08:52 PM
Its funny because as a nickel corner he's arguably the best in the league, but as a normal starter he's arguably the worst...