The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced an uncommon amount of roster turnover over the last few seasons, which just so happened to coincide with consecutive years without a postseason berth.
As a result, we’re finding an unusual amount of new faces in the starting lineup compared just to last season, when the season before already introduced several new starters.
The rapid turnover in successive seasons certainly has much to do with the organization’s personnel management over the previous years. Time, as always, came out the victor as they felt the ramifications of trying to hold together a championship roster that could no longer perform like one.
Considering how different the projected starting lineup for the start of the 2014 season is from just two seasons ago, I think it would be interesting to revisit the roster from the 2010 season—the last time the Steelers competed for a championship—to see how different this new team truly is.
During the Steelers’ last Super Bowl appearance, longtime cornerback William Gay was playing his familiar role of nickel back, in a game that included seeing him get beat deep by Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson for a touchdown. In point of order, Gay was covering Nelson on the outside on that play because starting cornerback Bryant McFadden had left the game.
Nevertheless, Gay spent the next two years as a full-time starting cornerback anyway, including the 2012 season spent with the Arizona Cardinals. But he has proven most valuable for the Steelers in the slot—at least when they’re not playing the New England Patriots—which is the role he continues to serve today.
Gay first found success during the 2008 season subbing for an injured McFadden, which led to the latter departing in free agency and the former getting his first crack at starting, even though he ultimately failed in 2009.
He rebounded in the slot in 2010, and transitioned in 2011. While he was the starter that year, he moved to the slot in sub-packages.
He converted his success that year into a contract with the Cardinals, for whom he played over 1000 snaps before they released him after he hit a contract escalator for playing time.
The Steelers were quick to re-sign him, and he instantly regained his form in the slot, but it wasn’t long before they needed to call upon him to play on the outside again—first due to an injury to Cortez Allen, and then due to his struggles after returning from injury.
Gay wound up starting as an outside corner for the majority of the 2013 season, and perhaps had the best year of his career. Barring, once again, a poor performance against the Patriots, he showed his skills against both the run and the pass.
But he was especially effective when he was able to play in the slot, which is a topic that I’ve previously looked at this offseason.
As noted in the article linked above, Gay allowed just 0.73 yards per snap in coverage last season while in the slot, which was the second best total in the league. His lone interception and pick six also came from the slot, where he allowed a quarterback rating of just 66.2.
The Steelers should hope that Allen can rebound from his recent struggles and ailments to become the outside cornerback that they need for the next generation of this defense. In the short term, it will allow them to keep Gay in the slot, but it will also be crucial with the impending retirement of Ike Taylor.