The defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will enter training camp this year with only two starting positions even relatively open to more than one player.
The more open of the two, and I say that comparatively, is the right Cornerback position recently vacated by Bryant McFadden. Last year McFadden surpassed Townsend as the second best Cornerback on the team and proved that he could excel as a starter rather than just as a nickel-back.
This season William Gay, a third year player out of Louisville, is hoping to mimic McFadden in 2009. While Steelers fans, coaches, and players all expect, and hope, that Gay will follow in McFadden’s footsteps it isn’t a guaranteed.
Gay has shown a lot of promise but not every promising back-up can provide solid play on an every-down basis. Playing defensive back for the Steelers is a much more demanding position than it is for most teams.
Dick LeBeau likes his Cornerbacks to play more like safeties, being physical in coverage and providing solid help in run support. Not only must Gay prove that he can cover starting receivers but he also must show the ability tackle, get off blocks, and blitz effectively.
While Townsend seems to have lost his ability to properly cover starting receivers, he can perform at a starting level in all the other aspects of the position. If Gay can’t do those things than he is no longer a start worthy player and Townsend will become, once again, a potential starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This all being said, it is true that Mike Tomlin, Gay, Townsend, and all other parties involved believe Gay will be the starter for the beginning, middle and end of the 2009 season. And while Tomlin hopes Gay will make positions battle talks, and this article itself, completely irrelevant it is still not guaranteed the Gay will be able to hold down the fort.
As a personal prediction, I think that William Gay has consistently outperformed expectations and will continue to do so. He isn’t quite as physically impressive and McFadden or Ike Taylor but he can play football and will play like Townsend in his younger years.
The position battle for the starting right Cornerback spot isn’t really a one vs. one battle. It’s more William Gay’s performance vs. his expectations. If he lives up to expectations there is no position battle but if he shows in training camp and later in the preseason he could lose his starting role to Townsend.