After the Super Bowl XLV loss to the Packers, I was in agreement with many fans that William Gay was a major reason for the breakdowns in the secondary against Aaron Rodgers. The following 2011 showed improvement for the Steelers cornerback, highlighting his late game interception against Cleveland that helped seal a victory that aided the team's playoff push that season.
In his first game for his return from a brief 2012 stint with the Arizona Cardinals, William Gay was covering New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz who received the game's only touchdown pass. Immediately, it seems to many as if the cornerback who was once a major cause for blame in the secondary, is once again going to be a liability for the Steelers secondary.
However following the game, it was the Pittsburgh safeties who accepted blame for the biggest defensive mistake of the Steelers' first preseason game. The player who was formerly referred to by Mike Tomlin as "big play Willie Gay," still faces critics from the fan base of the team that he played most of his career with.
His teammates, on the other hand, are glad to have him with the team. Ike Taylor counters criticism of Gay's abilities at corner by reminding reporters that a player who has played seven years in the NFL and still sees playing time at his position. Taylor also notes that Gay can play multiple positions in Dick LeBeau's defense and how that makes him an asset, rather than a liability.
Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake cites Gay's intelligence as a football player as his most valuable trait.
"He's open-minded and flexible enough to adjust on the run," lake says. "If you tell him once he got it and he does it."
Both Taylor and Lake confirm the assertions of Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark that blame for the play should not rest on the shoulders of Gay, and that defensive positioning was more to blame than any single mistake Gay could have made.
Despite the responses of several highly respected members of the Pittsburgh secondary, past and present, Gay remains unfazed by criticisms. A thick skin is important when playing cornerback, as every play where the other team attempts to pass the ball, that player is subject to several opportunities for mistakes. Gay was called up on the depth chart as the second starting cornerback due to the injury to Cortez Allen.
Although Gay has been known to be a liability in the past, he is still a valued member of the secondary even upon his return. While fans may remember in 2009 when he was trucked by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, most people might not realize that since Gay's rookie season, he has not missed a regular season game due to injury.
For 96 straight games, or six straight seasons, Gay has been an active player on his roster. In an injury plagued-year, and especially with the dark cloud of bad luck that has followed the Steelers, an experienced cornerback who is not injury prone could prove invaluable to the Steelers as the season continues. Last season we saw the Steelers lose their top three cornerbacks to injury during the home stretch of the season, where Curtis Brown and Josh Victorian failed to contain the Dallas Cowboys' passing attack.
Gay will prove most valuable when the 2013 season is under way because of his versatility within the secondary and his experience as a cornerback in the Steelers' defensive unit. He may not be a the fastest, tallest or most skilled, he can be a piece to the puzzle for the Steelers to maintain their first place ranking of defenses against the pass.
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