The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with a number of aging talents that epitomized success in the community during the height of their careers. While their on-field assets may have diminished over the years, however, one should not underestimate the ripple effect that their departures could have within the locker room.
While the concepts of camaraderie and leadership may be somewhat elusive when it comes to the team chemistry of a sports team, there is no doubt some truth to the idea that these qualities help build a winning team, especially when it comes to a game as interconnected with one another as is football.
The last several offseasons have seen some quality championship characters exit stage right, and their vacant lockers no doubt diminished the overall character of the room as a whole. Just recently, the team saw both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retire, even if their departures were already in the plans for this spring.
The question now becomes identifying who the new locker room leaders are, both now and in the future. I believe we do have some immediate answers, with a few waiting to be developed in the coming years, so let’s get to know some of these men who are leading the locker room these days for the Steelers.
With as much turnover that the defensive side of the ball has experienced over the past couple of seasons, it’s very possible that Steelers cornerback William Gay ends up being the oldest and most veteran starter on the defense, pending the outcome of the outside linebacker competition and what James Harrison’s role ends up being.
Gay is, in fact, one of only three players on the defensive side of the ball who are 30 years old or older, with Harrison being the oldest at 36 and Will Allen behind him at 32. Only Gay is seemingly guaranteed a full-time starting role, however.
The ninth-year veteran has never missed a game in his career, and has 76 starts under his belt, with a great deal more time logged in the slot as a key contributor. Of his nine career interceptions, eight have come over the past four seasons, with four returned for touchdowns over the last two years—three last year alone.
The fact that he spent a year in Arizona may seem like a bit of a contradiction to the following claim, but there doesn’t appear to be a more team-oriented person on the roster than Gay. He has filled just about every role in the secondary over the years without question and has been both available and accountable.
In his second season, in 2008, he was forced into the starting lineup due to injury, and he helped the defense hold things down en route to a Super Bowl. While he struggled attempting to become a full-time starter a year later, he spent a year transitioning between slot and starter in 2010, regaining his bearings, and has been primarily a starter since.
But he has also been a valuable contributor on special teams, and has even played safety at times. He knows the defense as well as anybody, and gives as much of himself to the team and to his teammates as anybody else on the roster.
With as much as the defense has experienced turnover in the past few years, his leadership will be more valuable than ever. This year, he will be looked at as a full-time starter, which hasn’t been the case, so it’s time for him to take hold of that responsibility as the elder statesman of the secondary.