What does the future hold for veteran Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay? Through 11 NFL seasons, the former fifth-round draft pick has never missed a game. He spent all but one of those seasons under Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, with a one-year stint in Arizona before returning for the second act of his career.
After such a long time, Gay has virtually seen it all, and done much of it. He has played just about every role in the secondary that could be asked of him. He has been a starter. He has been depth. He has been the nickel slot defender. He has been used as a dime linebacker, and is in a dime role this season. He has even functioned as a safety.
A noted student of the game known for his extensive tape study, what he may have lost in speed he has largely made up for in accrued wisdom, and that has allowed him to continue to make key contributions as he heads toward his mid-30s. He has an interception and a forced fumble this year in relatively limited work.
Gay’s extensive knowledge has been invaluable in extending his playing career and retaining his usefulness to the team. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler told Chris Adamski that the team has given him the nickname of ‘Coach’.
And Gay also told Adamski that he is hoping to make that more than a nickname when all is said and done. He wants to coach football as his life’s work when he hangs up the pads. “And not only coach”, he added. “I want to climb the ladder”.
He hopes to be a defensive coordinator someday, even a head coach. He can follow the example of his own head coach, who used his intelligence and insights into the game to rise in the ranks, though he’ll get a much later start in it because, you know, he was actually an NFL player.
Joe Haden credits Gay for helping him to get the Steelers’ defense down as quickly as he did after he was signed in August. He called him “the smartest dude I have ever played with”, and talked about how he knows everything everybody is doing on the field.
For his part, Gay credits his predecessors, particularly the likes of Troy Polamalu and Deshea Townsend, for his embrace of the philosophical aspect of the sport. Townsend, at least, has extended his football life into the coaching ranks.
After he learned what his teammates are doing, Gay asked himself deeper questions. “’How can the offense attack you?’. And ‘what tendencies does the offense have?’. Things of that nature. That’s how you keep learning, because football evolves and is a whole bunch of learning each year”.