Sunday, March 25, 2012

What The Loss of William Gay Means For Steelers Secondary

When the news came down Sunday morning that William Gay had decided to leave the Steelers for the Arizona Cardinals, it didn't really come as any big surprise. Not even to Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.

″We knew that was a possibility,″ Kevin Colbert said today. ″His representatives had been in contact with us. We were aware of his trips and that he was going to get offers and he got an offer that he took.″ 

It was actually William Gay himself who broke the news of leaving when he declared from his personal Twitter account: "@williamgay22: I'm #Birdgang now west coast". 

In Arizona, as I alluded to in a previous blog post, he will be reunited with Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and assistant defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend. 

Make no mistake, William Gay's departure is a loss. Not only is there now the possible need to replace a cornerback, but the Nickel position as well. He started at the left cornerback spot for the Steelers last year from week two on after Bryant McFadden was benched following the week one loss to the Ravens. Then, when the Steelers would switch to Nickel and Dime packages, Gay would move inside to the slot and Keenan Lewis would come in as the left corner.

Gay made more plays last year than people choose to remember. He's not a starting NFL by any means, no, but the Steelers will still feel the loss, especially at the Nickel. 

That said, he was only beaten in a game-changing way twice all regular season, one of which arguably was caused by Ryan Clark being late over the top, and his 2011 regular season stats were on par with Ike Taylor's. The loss is real: he provided experience and depth, he was very good in the Nickel and he knows LeBeau's system.

At the same time, though, this is far from a major loss. There is good young talent at the position behind him in Pittsburgh. Even if he had stayed on a veteran minimum or qualifying contract offer, he still would have been the third or fourth defensive back in Pittsburgh next season. 

Is there a need to draft a corner to add to this young talent? Maybe, but the Steelers won't go against the norm and get someone via free agency. We may already, in fact, have what we need in Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith and/or Myron Rolle. They may be able to step up at safety and negate the need for an extra cornerback/Nickel defensive back.

Nonetheless, there should be healthy competition at cornerback to compliment Ike Taylor with Keenan Lewis being the leader in the clubhouse. Lewis has more defensive snaps, seeing game action to the tune of about 400 snaps last season. 

Also based on last year's game packages and total snaps, I'd expect to see Cortez Allen being the nickel corner Keenan Lewis starting opposite Ike since it was Allen who was used in the Dime, though not a true Dime, packages.  

Curtis Brown hardly saw action at all on defense in his rookie campaign. He does seem to hold the eye of the coaching staff, though, as Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest says that they are high on Brown and Allen both. Both showed promise, but Allen seemed to wedge himself in a little tighter in that he would line up inside on slot receivers and tight ends. 

Though the loss of William Gay is palpable, it isn't a loss that will completely hamstring the Steelers. The Steelers have young talent that, though very short on experience, is very long on talent and potential.

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Steelers unrestricted free agent tackle Max Starks was on Sirius XM on Friday and expressed interest in coming back to the Steelers. Alex Marvez reported via his Twitter account, @alexmarvez, that Starks was recovering from his ACL tear suffered against the Denver Broncos.

His tweet read, "T Max Starks - who looks physically great despite having ACL surgery during the season -- is on @SiriusXMNFL #Steelers" 

At one point during the interview in question he was asked if there was a chance that he would return to the Steelers in 2012 and he replied, "I mean it's a potential. One of the biggest things is that for myself, there's been expressed interest, but once again it all stems off of my ACL recovery....It's my intent that I have the opportunity to go back there, but I know the reality is that I'm not going to get a legitimate look until June for my knee." 

Showing his desire to remain a Steeler is real, he further said, "I say 'us' and 'ours' when I'm talking about the Steelers, speaking from that past tense, but that's been my whole entire career, I was eight years there, so that's all I know."

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The Denver Broncos brought in and are currently hosting Steelers unrestricted free agent quarterback Dennis Dixon.

Dixon has appeared in four games for the Steelers, making three career starts. He has a 2-1 record with one touchdown and two interceptions. If signed, he would battle Caleb Hanie for backup role.