Soon-to-be former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay was in many ways part of a long-standing team tradition that helped make them competitive for years at a time. He came in as a fairly unheralded player and was coached up by the veterans of the team until one day he found himself being that veteran, passing on his wisdom to the generation that will take over his role and make him expendable.
That is a role, and a process, that he has embraced, especially given his ambition to one day pursue the coaching profession. His teammates and coaches have given him the nickname of ‘Coach’ in recent years for a reason, and he has been important in helping to accelerate the growth of the team’s young defensive backs that have been taken in recent years.
That is part of the reason that he described his impending release as “bittersweet” while speaking to Jeremy Fowler after he was informed of the team’s decision. Part of the reason that they are able to let him go is because they believe they have players to work with that he helped to nurture.
“I understand the business part of it. You’ve got young guys who can play”, he said. “It’s the nature of the wheel. It was a blessing to see that wheel come full circle”. The clearest example of that was when he opened the 2016 season as a full-time starter on the outside before Artie Burns moved into the role several weeks into the season, kicking him into the slot in the nickel defense. Burns then took over the full-time role and Gay only saw time in the nickel.
The secondary is full of young players now, aside from Burns. There is Sean Davis, the third-year starter at safety, and Mike Hilton, heading into his second accrued season as a former undrafted free agent, taking over the nickel role from Gay this past year.
Last year’s two draft picks in the secondary, Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen, may have been the final straw tipping the scales against Gay being brought back. Sutton should move into the number four role on the depth chart with a role in the dime defense, which may be used more frequently this year.
“Those guys are ready to learn, they are smart, above what their age says”, Gay told Fowler about the number of young players who are on the team now. “Now it’s just time to put it together and make the best of these years while they can”.
When Gay came into the league, he was helped along the way by the likes of Deshea Townsend and Bryant McFadden, as well as Ike Taylor, the veterans of the team by the time that he was drafted.
As he exits the organization, he hopes to have put his stamp on the secondary that he leaves behind in the youngsters such as Burns, Hilton, and Sutton.