Steelers CB William Gay Might Be The \”Safety Valve\” In The Secondary This Season

During his talk with the media following the selection of Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne in the fifth round on the 2013 NFL draft, defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was asked about cornerback William Gay and his ability to play safety should the need ever arise.

“In the past William has played some safety,” said Lake. “He’s rotated back there based on some concepts that we were working. My first year with him and even in years past when he was here, he could play safety. I’m not counting on him being a down in and down out safety. He’s not built for a safety position, but he can do it.

“Will was a really productive corner for me when I had him here. He started for me both outside on first and second down and on third down as a nickel. He knows the defense in and out and that’s why I’m really glad we have him back. He can also tutor the younger guys coming up. We can plug and play Will just about anywhere on the field and he can be productive for us.”

The question about Gay playing safety was one of the best ones that the members of the Pittsburgh media asked the Steelers coaches all weekend and Lake\’s answer very well might give us a little insight into how the numbers could possibly shake out on the 53 man roster come the final cut down date.

As we sit here right now, we know that Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Robert Golden and fourth-round draft pick Shamarko Thomas are all roster locks. Prior to last season, the Steelers had made a habit out of only carrying four “true” safeties on their 53 man roster, but carried five last season with Golden being the fifth.

With Ryan Mundy and Will Allen now gone via free agency, the Steelers lack experienced depth behind both Polamalu and Clark. Will a veteran free agent such as James Sanders, who made a visit to Pittsburgh several weeks ago, be signed to help bridge the gap to Golden and Thomas, or is Lake comfortable enough with Gay\’s ability to play the position so that the team can free up an extra roster spot for another cornerback such as Josh Victorian, who Lake admitted on Saturday surprised him late last season?

One would think that the Steelers would want keep no more than ten defensive backs on the 53 man roster in 2013 with possibly another one on the practice squad. Should Lake indeed be comfortable enough with Gay playing the safety position in a pinch, the Steelers could possibly keep just four safeties and six cornerbacks this season.

We have a long time to wait until we see how this all plays out, but the decision to bring back Gay after his one season away with the Arizona Cardinals seems like a smarter one everyday. Not only can he play all three cornerback positions, he also fully understands the Steelers defense and can serve as “safety valve” on top of everything else.

  • steeltown

    That makes sense to me… Gay being the emergency Safety

    Hey Bryan, is Da’mon Cromartie Smith still eligible for the practice squad? I dont see him making the 53man roster, but he could have value on the PS

  • “Not only can he play all three cornerback positions, he also fully understands the Steelers defense and can serve as “safety valve” on top of everything else.” I have no idea what you were watching when Gay was at CB for Pittsburgh in the past, but it definitely wasn’t what I was looking at. The only thing that I would agree with is his knowledge of the defense. The ability to play the three cornerback positions? Huh? He was routinely targeted and abused. Even Arizona didn’t re-sign him! The guy is not meant to play cornerback in the NFL. The only redeeming quality he has is that he is an above average tackler. I say that while trying to omit the image of Adrian Peterson BULL DOZING him three years ago. Safety might be a better fit for him, however I would still have him be behind Shamarko.

  • Steelersguru

    William Gay is not an above average tackler for safety though. Gets stiff armed & run over too easy.

    A coach Lake isnt going to reply that a player on his team cant play safety. Anybody is better than Mundy was.

  • SteelersDepot

    You should really watch more games than just the Patriots blowout and him getting run over by AP. I am sure you know WAY more than Lake though. Gay is VERY servicable in the secondary and has great position flexibility. It is too bad they didn’t have him last year after Ike went down. They likely would have made the playoffs.

  • Steelersguru

    Safeties have to be able to tackle though. Gay cant tackle well enough to be a safety. Lake maybe meant he could be as good of safety as Mundy, but Mundy doesnt count. Gay is not a hitter either & would get trampled by any tight end. Its rediculous, & just says we dont have enough depth at safeties.

  • steeltown

    We had the #1 pass defense in 2011 when Gay started opposite Ike Taylor.. he had 2INT’s and 13pass defenses. Trust me, prior to 2011 season I was not the biggest William Gay fan, but he played well as a starter in 2011

    Yes, he has been picked on and blew a few coverages over the years, BUT who hasnt? He’s not a #1 shut down CB and we wont ask him to be, but as a #3 on the depth chart, Im glad to have him

  • steeltown

    Agreed. Gay wouldve been a nice option, especially when Keenan and Cortez also had nagging injury. Thats another thing about him, he has always stayed healthy and available

  • hergieburbur

    How many CBs int he league CAN’T AP truck, exactly? Gay is an above average nickelback and a solid outside CB in a pinch. Safety is not a better fit for him as his size and tackling aren’t up to safety standards. Finally, if you paid attention at all, the reason Gay was cut in AZ was because he hit all of his contract escalators (by outplaying what they expected), and was due a 3.225 million dollar bonus that they did not want to pay.

  • hergieburbur

    Statistically, he is well above average for a #3. I hope he doesn’t have to play outside much, but I am good with him on the inside.

  • hergieburbur

    Well, we knew we didn’t have safety depth, so that is no surprise. I think Lake was speaking from the standpoint of being in the right position not to get burned.

  • steeltown

    He had 3FF and 2INT’s last season.. and a sack
    I dont think he’s the greatest or anything, but he stays healthy, knows the system, can blitz from the edge and play nickel well

  • steeltown


  • hergieburbur


  • Pete

    What Lake meant (to me) was that Gay could fill a Safety spot in a pinch and perform better than Harrison as a LS. I don’t believe he meant they could throw Gay over to the Safety position and leave him there permanently. Lake said Gay’s not built for the position but he could do it if asked (most likely in an emergency).

  • SteelSpine

    I’m fine with use Gay as a dime CB or even nickel CB as I was fine with him for nickel CB in years past, & when Gay left he did get unfairly bashed (Gay bashing? oops sorry) as though he was awful, he wasn’t awful at CB just average. 2 INTs & 13 pass defenses is ok for a CB & maybe for CB position is all you are referring to there.

    But at safety, Gay would not put fear into anyone. If I’m a QB seeing Gay waiting for a FB or TE or even a HB, I’m throwing the ball to that FB or TE, so that receiver can drag Gay for YAC (yards after catch).

  • hergieburbur

    The truly scary part about all of this is, we have struggled covering TEs in recent years, Cincy and Baltimore both how have two solid pass catching TEs, and we don’t have a lot of depth or prospects at the positions primarily tasked with covering them.

  • SteelerDave

    Gay as an emergency anything let alone a 3rd or 4th corner scares me.

  • Steelersguru

    Good point. Omg i didnt even think about those matchup problems we already have. Then if 2TEs & Gay plays for Troy being out, yoi.

  • I think it is do or die with DCS as it should be. Golden beat him out last year and now we have our favorite pick in S. Thomas…I think this is it for him.

  • hergieburbur

    He shouldn’t. He was the #2 CB on the 5th best passing defense in the league last year, and was only released because he reached so many of his contract escalators that he was due a 3 million plus bonus. I wouldn’t want him as a #2 except in an emergency, but he is a good #3.

  • steeltown

    Well yea I think Golden will beat him out again for a roster spot, but in regards to practice squad, DCSmith would be a nice player (with experience who knows the system) but Im not sure he is eligilble any longer. He went undrafted and signed in 2010, so that would mean 3yrs, making him ineligible, but he went and played in the UFL in 2010 and later signed back with the Steelers in 2011… so I think he’s still eligible for the PS…. maybe

  • steeltown

    Yea I was referring to CB… I dont think he’s a Safety type, maybe in an emergency

  • steeltown

    One reason why they drafted Spence.. he had the speed to keep up with RB’s and hybrid TE’s and still had the pop and tackling ability to take them down

  • hergieburbur

    Yeah, it really is a shame he may never play again. He looked a very good fit for that role.

  • walter mason

    Is it ok to use the Gay word?

  • Jim Underwood

    Right. I think Lake was referring to Gay being a cover safety in certain pass defense situations – not run support, by any means. That would be ba’ad, inkay? :]

  • Mike.H

    If W.Gay turns into safety at 5″10 190, shouldn’t he add 5 lbs of bulk?

  • Ahmad

    I kept telling people that Gay could play safety in a pinch but I got written off as not knowing what I was talking about. I just hope he doesn’t have to though as our secondary is the best part of the D at the moment and everyone needs to be healthy.

  • Ahmad

    Yeah and those numbers are better than every DB on the roster last year minus Allen. We sure could have used those 3 FF and 2 INT’s last year. It might have won us a few more games.

  • sean mcmartin

    keeping lewis made sense. I was happy when gay left. Knowing the schemes and he still gets torched. not an upgrade at all.

  • GH05T

    If Gay is the safety valve this year we better hire a new plumber