While Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay is scheduled to be in the starting lineup for only the second time on opening day in his career with the team—the other time being in 2009—the interesting thing is that, if things actually go according to plan, he should be spending more time in the slot than he has in quite some time.
The issue, of course, is that things rarely go according to plan, which is why, for example, he has started 24 regular season games over the past two seasons, during neither of which he was supposed to be the starter. And those are not sub-package starts, but rather games in which he was one of two base package outside cornerbacks.
When Ike Taylor went down in the third game of the season a year ago, Gay had to enter the starting lineup midway through the third game, and he stayed on the outside in sub-packages because the initial sub-package cornerback, Brice McCain, was more suited for the slot than outside.
This season, with McCain departing in free agency, it figures to be Antwon Blake who is the initial sub-package cornerback, and he is expected to play on the outside, with Gay moving into the slot, which will allow the veteran to rely more on perhaps his greatest asset, reading the play in front of him and reacting.
That is, at least, what appears initially to be the plan, which is how the Steelers’ first-team defensive unit was playing in sub-packages based on reports. And I expect that to remain the case to start the season.
But I wonder how long the team can manage to keep rookie second-round draft pick Senquez Golson off the field, who has received the praise of his teammates, all the while staying on himself to remain driven and to improve.
Golson was getting a lot of work in the slot during the offseason, and was quoted by Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider as saying that “definitely likes the slot a lot”, despite the fact that he spent the majority of his time in college on the outside.
Taylor, who is spending the spring and summer with the team as a coaching intern, praised the second-rounder, describing him to Wexell as “highly intelligent for a rookie” and summing it up with a simple “he’s going to be good”.
With a pedigreed rookie corner who seems to be about at or ahead of the curve in terms of his anticipated development, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Golson at some point move up to play in the nickel ahead of Blake during the course of this season.
Should that happen, the team may well be more comfortable starting Golson out in the slot, as they often have done when pressed to play rookie defensive backs, leaving Gay on the boundary instead.
It’s impossible to predict this far in advance how exactly the secondary will shape itself, let alone ponder all of the possible sub-package combinations, but the scenario laid out above seems amply plausible. Should that be the case, it would mean once again that the team will pull Gay out of the spot that he best fits, though this time it may not be by necessity.