The Steelers said goodbye to a number of long-time veteran players in recent weeks, but other than sentimental value, players like Hines Ward and Aaron Smith didn't figure to have much of an impact or make much of a difference in wins and losses starting next season. One might say that James Farrior is going to be hard to replace as a leader and the inside linebacker. There is some merit to that, obviously, but Farrior is also 37 years old, and his replacement will more than likely be Larry Foote, a player who has started in two Super Bowls and played in a third. Is Foote James Farrior? No, but he's serviceable.
During his time here, William Gay wasn't exactly revered by Steelers fans in the same way that Hines Ward and Aaron Smith were during their careers. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite, especially in '09 and '10.
In '09, Gay assumed the starting corner job after Bryant McFadden left for Arizona (there's that team again), but his '09 season was a disaster, as he was one of the main culprits in the team's inability to hold 4th quarter leads.
In 2010, McFadden returned to the Steelers in a draft-day trade, and Gay was back to being a nickel back. The thing that Gay was most remembered for that season was his infamous performance trying to cover Rob Gronkowski in a Sunday night game against the Patriots. In that game, a 39-26 New England victory, Gay was beaten by Gronkowski for three touchdowns and looked completely overmatched on every single one of them. Gay was also one of the players singled out for the team's failure to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing offense in Super Bowl XLV.
Last offseason, there was much talk that the team should draft a corner as high as the first round in order to address the major need. The Steelers, instead, decided to further address the defensive line by making Cam Heyward the team's first round draft choice. The Steelers did go corner in back to back rounds when they took Curtis Brown out of Texas in the 3rd round and Cortez Allen out of the Citadel in the 4th round.
Many were wondering if Gay would return to the team last season, and he did re-sign with the Steelers shortly after the lockout ended. McFadden opened the 2011 season as the starting corner opposite Ike Taylor, but Gay would soon be in the lineup following a Mcfadden injury early on. Not only did Gay hold his own, he was part of a passing defense that was number one in the NFL. And he contributed significantly to a win against the Bengals with a couple of big 4th quarter plays, including an interception late to seal the deal. Gay came up big again the following week with another key 4th quarter interception that clinched a victory against the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football. T
The secondary went from an area of great concern to one that was seen as a strength, and William Gay was certainly a key member of the unit.
So, now that Gay is gone, how will the Steelers address the issue?
The good news is the Steelers do seem to have three very talented candidates to replace Gay.
Fourth year corner Keenan Lewis appeared to make significant strides last season after struggling mightily in his first two campaigns, and he did so well, he was the number three cornerback in 2011.
And the team appears to be very excited about the potential of both Brown and Allen. The fact that McFadden couldn't even sniff the lineup last season after recovering from his injury tells me that there are more than enough candidates to replace Gay. And let's not forget about the key contributions of new secondary coach Carnell Lake. Lake received rave reviews last year for the work he did with the secondary, including improving the play of both Gay and Lewis, and he might have been the central reason for that number one ranking. Hopefully, he can get both Brown and Allen to make significant strides in 2012.
There are no guarantees, obviously. Lewis isn't too far removed from that infamous preseason game in Denver just two seasons ago, and Brown and Allen haven't shown anything other than raw potential up to now.
How do you think the Steelers will address the departure of Gay? Do you think they'll just go in the obvious direction and promote Lewis and have Brown and Allen fight it out for the nickel spot?
Or do you think they need to go out and find a veteran player to be the team's number two corner for at least another year while the young guys get some more seasoning?