Friday, October 12, 2007
By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For many rookies, the most difficult transition from college to the NFL is not matching up physically with the competition. It's learning a new system and comprehending more intricate schemes.
One reason rookie cornerback William Gay, a fifth-round pick out of Louisville, has risen up the depth chart so quickly with the Steelers has been his ability to digest Dick LeBeau's defense.
"One thing I've noticed about him ever since he got here is how much of a student of the game he is," said starting cornerback Deshea Townsend, the elder statesman of the secondary. "That really impressed me a lot. He was able to come in here and get the concept of the defense down quickly.
"When you can learn the nickel and play the corner ... that's pretty tough to do in your first year. You usually just learn to play one position. But he was able to come in and learn the nickel pretty quick. That impressed me."
Gay surpassed veteran Ricardo Colclough on the depth chart and earned the job as the nickel cornerback in last week's 21-0 victory against Seattle. Gay played a big part in the shutout. He covered Deion Branch and Nate Burleson, two established NFL veterans, and did not allow any big plays.
"That shows how much confidence the coaches have in him, to put him in there in that situation against Seattle, a team with good receivers," safety Ryan Clark said. "He's doing well, man. The thing is he's picking up the defense, which can be a difficult scheme to pick up at times. He's really contributing."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was impressed with what he saw from Gay in his first opportunity at extended playing time. Gay had already caught the coach's eye with his stellar play on special teams.
"I thought William Gay played well, particularly in the course of the kicking game," Tomlin said. "He's starting to prove that he's a very reliable guy in that area. But he's a very reliable guy on defense as well. He's shown maturity beyond his years. He put in a very solid performance."
Gay could be the No. 3 cornerback again next week at Denver if Bryant McFadden does not recover from his high ankle sprain. McFadden did not dress against Seattle.
Gay was surprised the Seahawks did not try to attack him more than they did. Quarterback Matt Hasselback barely threw his way.
"I think I did fairly well," said Gay, 5 feet 10, 190 pounds. "I went out there and did the assignments the coaches told me to do. I just went out on the field and did what I did in practice. It worked out."
Was he surprised that Mike Holmgren did not test him more?
"During the game I didn't think about it like that," he said. "I was just doing my job, covering my man. After we looked at film, Coach was surprised that they didn't come after me like he thought they would. He thought they would come after me on every third down, every time I was in there. I don't know what game plan they had. But different teams will see that and come after me. I just have to be ready to make plays."
The Steelers held Branch to two receptions for 14 yards before he left with an injury. Burleson had one reception for 7 yards. Gay is eagerly waiting for his number to be called again.
"It put a smile on my face when I knew I could get out there and cover some of the top names in the league," he said. "I just want to progress and continue to get better. Each week I have to prepare for anything. Coach always says, 'This is the NFL. You have to be prepared for anything.' Whatever happens next week, I'm ready to step up and be a part of the defense."
NOTES -- Tomlin had his players report to the indoor facility for practice at 10:30 a.m. yesterday. After a quick walk-through, Tomlin called the players over and held up a hand-drawn picture of a bone. Every player knew what that meant: No practice. "It was crazy," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "That was something new to me. If he says we're practicing, we're practicing. In training camp, we asked him to throw a dog a bone. He never did, but he threw us a bone today." Said running back Willie Parker: "A lot of us thought he would give us this day off. If not, he would go down as the grittiest coach ever." ... Tomlin worked his team in full pads Tuesday and Wednesday, a change from seasons past during the off week. The team will return Monday to begin preparations for Denver.