William Gay Could Be A Different Kind Of Safety Net With Cortez Allen Back

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.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • ATL96STEELER

    I lke what I’ve seen from Thomas so far…the TD he gave up was good coverage imo, great play by the WR. Have I missed something on C. Brown? Is he still injured or just not consider worthy of nickel?

  • SteelersDepot

    Special teams guy only. Believe the team has no faith in him. Never turned the corner.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The coaches seem to have determined that he can’t be trusted on defense after another shaky preseason. Really disappointing, I was really hoping to see him develop this year. But at least he’s doing his job on special teams.

  • Bilgewater D

    Ah, hahahaha…I see what you did there.

  • steeltown

    I think he’s gone when his rookie contract is up after 2014

  • steeltown

    Yet another reason CB is such a high priority in next yrs draft.. I could again see them draft two like the year they selected C.Brown and C.Allen

  • ATL96STEELER

    Definitely disappointing…Well…hit with Lewis, seemingly hit with Allen, so I guess coach Lake has seen enough of Brown to realize he doesn’t have it, and may not…Ike may well see the end of his contract.

  • steeltown

    Agreed… even if they draft a CB early in the draft next year we’ll still need Ike Taylor in ’14

  • RW

    I doubt he plays any safety this year unless there are a rash of injuries. Gay is best suited to play nickel or dime back. We tend to like using safeties who are bigger when we bring in an additional one or one to replace Clark because they match up well with bigger slot receivers and tight ends. I suspect that Gay will become the primary nickel back and Thomas will serve as the dime back should they use that again. In a quarter scheme, I suspect Thomas another safety comes in to play deep and Polamalu comes up to the line. No need to experiment with Gay back there unless there’s an urgent need for it.

  • RW

    No reason just to keep him as a special teams ace.

  • Eric

    Ike will take a pay cut and stay. The FO and fans like him and their is loyalty both ways.

  • ATL96STEELER

    $10 mil cap hit in his final year…yea it would have to be an outright pay cut. With a base of $7mil, I can see that. Ike is meticulous in his conditioning…they may throw him 1 more year if he does accept less next season.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Matt, I love your articles but I have to respectfully disagree on your theory that Willie Gay can play safety. I don’t argue that he knows the safety “playbook”. I argue that he has the “skills” to play safety.

    In our scheme, safeties are required to tackle. I feel that’s one of Gay’s biggest weaknesses. Also, safeties are supposed to provide help over the top, deep down the field, many times against taller WR’s or TE’s. Gay’s lack of height and ball skills would put him at a severe disadvantage there.

  • bgsteelfan

    He’s not good at anything but ST

  • bgsteelfan

    I agree, Gay isn’t big or physical enough to play that role when we have a guy like Thomas available. There may be some growing pains, but the long term, overall payoff would be worth it.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I believe Gay is a better tackler than you give him credit for. His play against the run thus far this year has been more than solid. Don’t let the Adrian Peterson play four years ago outweigh his total body of work. As far as height goes, Shamarko Thomas is even shorter, and Troy Polamalu is the same height. Robert Golden is under 6 feet as well. Tomlin and Colbert have both specifically spoken about Gay either playing in a safety capacity or functioning as a safety at times in the nickel in the past as well.

  • Alfredo Reveles

    Does anyone know if Terry Hawthorne was signed to a roster? Coach Lake was high on the kid coming out of the draft. Injuries didn’t allow him to play. Thought we gave up on him pretty quick..

  • Steeler Wheeler

    I’m ready to have a few growing pains as Shark replaces Clark, rather than the angst of watching Clark play sub-standard football.