By Matthew Marczi
With Cortez Allen being a full participant in practice yesterday and showing all signs of being able to resume play after missing the past two weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers face a somewhat interesting personnel situation.
After the Steelers lost inside linebacker Larry Foote for the season, Dick LeBeau had to improvise and adjust. After all, Foote and Lawrence Timmons had hardly missed a snap the year before.
One of those new improvisations was actually an old favorite from a couple years back: the dime, or ‘quarters’ package.
Its first implementation came in Week Two, which Allen missed. With Allen out, William Gay started for him at left outside cornerback. Safety Shamarko Thomas moved to the slot, while Robert Golden rotated with Ryan Clark as the deep safety, allowing Troy Polamalu to roam as a quasi-linebacker.
But Cortez Allen is back now, meaning that somebody has to be the odd man out when the Steelers move to their quarters personnel—which, by the way, they have been doing nearly a quarter of the time over the past two weeks.
Here’s a thought: is it time for William Gay to play the safety dance? He has already been the team’s safety net as a spot starter at corner. Can he further expand his versatility in the dime?
There is presumably very little chance that Shamarko Thomas will be the primary nickel back just yet at this point in his career, or at this point of the season, meaning that he will probably not be on the field much when the Steelers go to the nickel package now that Cortez Allen is back.
But Thomas certainly does seem to be ahead of Robert Golden, and if the Steelers want to put their six best defensive backs on the field, it would include both Thomas and Gay. Thomas is the safety, but he is also the better man coverage player. And Gay knows the defense as well as anybody on the team, making him a logical candidate to play the deep safety.
Bob Labriola and others have speculated about Gay as a safety, and Mike Tomlin has even acknowledged his capability in that capacity earlier during this offseason. Is it time that we actually see it happen? It is an interesting idea, but I would not go so far as to predict that we see it this Sunday.