By Matthew Marczi
When the Arizona Cardinals released cornerback William Gay and the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to re-sign him after a one-year vacation in the desert, there was much hand-wringing over the move. After all, Gay is talentless and has no idea what he is doing out there—or so I had heard.
Some have suggested that the Steelers would have been able to retain Keenan Lewis, who started 16 games at cornerback for Pittsburgh last year after starting exactly zero as an outside corner in his first three seasons.
Of course, such an idea is made absurd when taking a quick glance at the team’s current and future salary cap situation and the contract that Lewis signed with the New Orleans Saints, his home town team for whom it appeared he had wanted to play for all along anyway.
Regardless of the Whos and the Hows and the Whys, however, just take a moment to ponder the following hypothetical question: where exactly would the Steelers be right now without William Gay?
Gay will be starting his second straight game at left cornerback tonight in place of the injured Cortez Allen, whose ankle injury also forced him the miss the second half of the season opener. Gay was brought in to be the nickel back because the Steelers were not yet sure if they could trust former third-rounder and Allen draft-mate Curtis Brown with such responsibilities. And Brown showed in the preseason that the caution of bringing Gay back was a move well-served.
With Allen out, and Brown untrustworthy, who would even be the starting cornerback opposite Ike Taylor right now? My guess would be backup safety Robert Golden. Golden was a former cornerback in college and played some dime in select situations last season as the injuries piled up. I can’t imagine they would have turned things over to Isaiah Green or Antwon Blake.
But you don’t want to have to turn to your backup safeties in order to replace your starting cornerbacks; if that is not a clear sign of a problem, I don’t know what is. So in that spirit, I say thank goodness for William Gay.
The reality is that through the first two games, Gay has been one of the team’s best players on defense, along with Taylor, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, and Steve McLendon. In the first game, he registered two pass deflections that put the ball up in the air for a possible interception.
Perhaps most impressive so far, however, has been his play against the run. He has three tackles against the run, thus far, most among cornerbacks on the team in that category, with two of them going for ‘stops’. He has eight tackles overall without a miss, and his quarterback rating against is just 67.
Here’s to hoping he maintains his solid play as a fill-in starter going forward.