2016 South Side Questions: Game Edition – How Does Secondary Cope Without William Gay?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Game Edition – How will the secondary look without William Gay in the lineup?

It has been hinted at all week by reporters that William Gay may not dress for Sunday’s game, although I’m not entirely clear what might have happened, since he didn’t have any injury of note heading into the bye week, so I assume something happened to his foot in practice.

Off the heels of Artie Burns talking about making his first start, the Steelers also promoted cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz off the practice squad to give them five to dress, which was another clear indication that Gay may well be sitting this one out.

I think it’s pretty easy to deduce that Ross Cockrell and Burns will be the starting cornerbacks who will play in their 3-4 front, even if they only use it about 25 percent of the time at this point. But it’s less certain who will play in the slot, even if safety Sean Davis had been pegged for that role earlier in the year.

Both Justin Gilbert and Shabazz have been given playing time, but it has always been with four cornerbacks on the field—yet they were often inside, usually covering a tight end, because they are taller cornerbacks.

What personnel they end up using, however, is secondary to how the defensive backfield will actually perform, and considering the struggles that they have already gone through this season, taking their most stable player out of the equation is not a welcome sight.

Assuming that Gay does not play, that means that there is no cornerback dressing for this game who has been with the team prior to the final cut-down day of the 2015 season, which is when they signed Cockrell. Gilbert was trade for on cut-down day this year. Burns and Davis are rookies, and Shabazz is a first-year Reserve/Future signing.

The Steelers liked Gay in the slot as an all-important hub of communication, but even when Davis was there, he was still out on the field and could help get the rookie in line. Now we may see both rookies on the field for 70 percent of the game, and that could be…interesting.

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