Gay, McFadden competing for starting spot

| Wednesday, July 21, 2010

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- William Gay acknowledges freely that things didn't go as planned during his first year as the Steelers' starting left cornerback.

"Being consistent week in and week out -- I had to learn that the hard way," Gay said Tuesday, following a workout at ESPN Wide World of Sports. "You've got to come to play. I hit some bumpy roads in those 16 weeks."

Given Gay's struggles as a first-time starter -- he didn't start the final two games last season -- the Steelers brought back Bryant McFadden in a draft-day trade and signed him to a three-year contract extension.

Ironically, one of the reasons McFadden joined the Arizona Cardinals in 2009 as a free agent is because Gay replaced him in the starting lineup. The tables have turned, with McFadden taking reps with the Steelers' first-team defense during offseason practices and Gay being featured at nickel back.

With the opening of training camp nine days away, McFadden and Gay have been training side-by-side with speed and conditioning coach Tom Shaw. There have been no outward signs of a rivalry between the players, who within the span of a year have discovered the euphoria and heartbreak that come with being a NFL starting cornerback.

Yesterday, McFadden and Gay lifted weights inside and ran themselves ragged outdoors while exchanging easy conversation with each other and teammates James Farrior and Ike Taylor.

"We're best of (friends) outside of the field and on the field," Gay said of his relationship with McFadden. "You're going to have people saying: 'They're battling for this job.' Being the competitor I am, that was competition coming back.

"(But) I focus on William Gay getting better and how I can do that. Before you can compete, you've got to make sure you're ready."

Said McFadden: "I enjoy working out with teammates and players that play the same position because it forces the issue for me to continue to get better."

The past couple of years reaffirmed for McFadden, a second-round draft pick in 2005, why it's important to take nothing for granted and to always expect the unexpected.

"Every year is a proving point, regardless if you're a 10-year veteran or a rookie," McFadden said. "You've always got to prove yourself over and over again in this league because nothing's guaranteed."

McFadden said signing a free-agent contract with Arizona and then being traded to the Steelers after one season taught him a valuable lesson about life in the NFL.

"Sometimes, it's good to see how things (are) done on the other side," McFadden said of his stint with the Cardinals. "I'm happy to be back."

Gay, meanwhile, said he was happy when he discovered McFadden had been traded to the Steelers, even though it may have cost him his starting job.

"When they brought him back, I was at his camp (in Hollywood, Fla.)," Gay said. "He came over and said, 'I'm back.' I said, 'cool.' I was happy for him, happy for the team.

"I wasn't worried about, 'he's coming back, do I still have my job?' I looked at it as a friend coming back. He never should have left."

Yesterday, McFadden folded his arms and leaned back when asked about his competition with Gay, who was sitting beside him.

Clearly, McFadden, who has 34 career starts, sees himself entrenched as the starter over Gay, a fifth-round pick in 2007 with 18 career starts.

"I can't afford to allow somebody to outwork me," McFadden said.

Still, McFadden focused on team goals rather than individual accomplishments when reflecting upon his return to the Steelers.

"It's the closest thing to a family that you can have outside of your real family," McFadden said. "A lot of teams don't (have) that, especially when you've got somebody you feel as though you might be competing with them. You might not talk with them outside the locker room.

"Here• Who cares?

"It's not one of those teams where you only see your teammates at work. For us to be successful, we've got to enjoy being with each other off the field and on."

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