When left cornerback Bryant McFadden went down with a hamstring injury against Buffalo this past Sunday, the Steelers replaced him mostly with nickel corner William Gay and Anthony Madison took over the nickel corner spot from Gay. Gay had a great day in relief of McFadden and had a team-high four passes defensed, one of which resulted in a tipped ball that was intercepted by safety Troy Polamalu. Madison had a good day in relief Gay in the nickel position, but was never really tested in the slot. In addition, Madison is much better suited as a dime back and is known more for his hitting than he is his coverage skills.
2nd year corner Keenan Lewis also had a brief appearance at left corner in relief of McFadden and was flagged for pass interference that set Buffalo up 1st-and-10 at the Steelers 11 yard-line. Luckily the defense held and the Bills were forced to kick a field goal. The development of Lewis has been slow and painful as he tends to play with his hands instead of his feet too much and looks like he is trying not to be beat deep instead of trusting the system and his ability to play the receiver more. At this point you have to worry about if he will ever be more than a dime back or special teams player. He certainly is not looking like the left corner of the future right now.
Rookie 5th round draft pick Crezdon Butler remains an unknown quantity to those of us not privileged to see practices. He flashed a little in pre-season games this year and worked all summer on both the right and left sides as well as the nickel spot. He even got some safety work in and defensive backs coach Ray Horton raved about how he was grasping things. The type of defensive system that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau runs is hard for first year players to learn and Butler is likely no different. 11 games into the season though, his head should not be spinning as much as it probably was back in July.
Should McFadden struggle getting back to the practice field this week with his hammy problem, the Steelers would most likely consider letting Gay start at the left corner spot and might even consider dressing Butler to rotate in and out with Madison at the nickel depending on down, distance and field position. Lewis is not well suited for the nickel role and Butler may indeed already be the better one-on-one cover guy as well.
McFadden has struggled with underneath coverage all year and while he is a sure handed tackler, he does not have the speed to break on the ball when he plays so far off the receiver. Gay showed much better break on ball speed last week versus Buffalo and deserves a shot to start on the left side if indeed McFadden is down this week. The Steelers have done good at getting their rookie class involved this year and contributing and it might be time to see if the Butler can do it or not.