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Veteran CB Gay making big impact in 2nd stint with Steelers

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' William Gay breaks up a pass intended for Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, at Heinz Field.

William Gay file

Position: Cornerback

Experience: Seventh season

Career: Five interceptions

2013: 28 tackles, four passes defended, one forced fumble

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
 

William Gay doesn't paint with a broad brush. Instead, he splashes the canvas with simplistic colors void of interpretative shades.

In reality, the Steelers' veteran cornerback envisions most everything on the football field as black or white. There are no gray areas, no room for ambiguity.

He either makes a play or he doesn't. He either shuts down a receiver or he doesn't.

For Gay, football isn't complicated.

Quite simply, Gay saved the day — and perhaps the season — Sunday when he denied Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco two touchdown throws that could have left the Steelers in an irretrievable mess at 1-5.

“Will made two bail-out plays that saved touchdowns (against Baltimore),” safety Ryan Clark said. “He made a great play on a zero blitz when he had no help. Then he came off of his guy to break up a pass in the end zone. He's been a big contributor the last two games.”

“He's been ‘Big Play Gay' since he's been here,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “I think people overlook him. He's making big plays, but they don't get magnified like they should.”

Everyone noticed Gay's invaluable contribution during the Steelers' last-second 19-16 victory over the AFC rival Ravens during film sessions earlier this week as they prepared to face the Raiders' elusive quarterback, Terrelle Pryor.

The 2-4 Steelers, who play Sunday at Oakland, have at least a slim chance of making the playoffs after starting 0-4.

“It's all about staying alive,” said Gay, who leads all cornerbacks with 102 consecutive games played. “It's about staying current and making sure I'm there when the team needs me.”

The Steelers needed Gay when third-year cornerback Cortez Allen became a liability, particularly in man coverage. They needed his savvy and his experience to recognize the opposition's tendencies.

While he didn't fit into the Arizona Cardinals' plans, Gay is making the best of his second chance in Pittsburgh.

“I think anytime you get released before the season starts, it means your productivity didn't match your salary,” Gay said. “That's basically what it came down to in Arizona.

“What you put on film is your walking, talking résumé. I thought I put together enough plays to get another job somewhere. Luckily, I got an opportunity to come back to Pittsburgh.”

Brown said Gay's hard work is paying off. Gay has put an emphasis on doing little things to elevate his game, but he has loftier expectations.

“I don't have any picks, so I'm pretty much even this season,” Gay said.

“We understand the value of having Will,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “His leadership has been an asset for the younger guys because he can communicate things because he's familiar with the system. He understands how offenses will try to attack us.”

The Raiders try to stretch the field with receivers Rod Streater and Denarius Moore. Moore has a 73-yard touchdown catch, and Streater has a 44-yard catch-and-carry for a score.

“We know their receivers are going to make some catches, but we have to limit what they get after the catch,” Gay said.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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