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.