By Jason Seidling
William Gay knew there were no guarantees, not for fifth-round draft choices trying to make an NFL roster for the first time. But no guarantees don't necessarily mean no chance.
When Gay arrived at Saint Vincent College fresh off a senior season at Louisville where he recorded six interceptions earned first-team All-Big East conference honors, he understood that his fate was in his own hands.
"When I first got to training camp (last year), Coach (Mike) Tomlin told us that the dead people walking are the ones walking around saying, 'I know that I'm going to be cut one of these days,'" said Gay. "I just took the mind-set that I needed to go in there and get better day-by-day and not worry about what happens."
This approach worked for Gay, because his positive outlook led to consistent big-play production throughout the preseason. Gay finished tied for third on the team with 14 tackles, recorded two interceptions, one of which secured a 12-10 victory over the Redskins, and he forced a fumble against the Eagles that led to a 78-yard touchdown return by Jovon Johnson.
Gay says that all of the big plays he made last preseason are just a product of the way that he likes to play the game.
"I just want to go out there and make my presence known," said Gay. "That's how I have always been since I was young. I want to be around the ball and do whatever it is that I can do to make the team better."
Gay helped to make the team better during his NFL debut against the Cleveland Browns in Week One. He forced a fumble and recorded one pass defensed in a 34-7 Steelers' victory.
As the season progressed, Gay saw most of his playing time on special teams, where he finished in a tie for third on the team with 11 tackles. Overall, Gay was happy with how his rookie campaign went.
"I think that I did well although there is always room for improvement," said Gay. "Most rookies go into that second-year slump, and I don't want to do that. Again, I was pleased but I am looking to come out and do even better (this) year."
According to Gay, performing even better in 2008 requires a greater understanding of the entire process of being a professional football player, and not just the work done between the white lines.
"I have a lot more knowledge of the game, the speed of the NFL and the playbook," Gay described about how he believes he has improved since the end of last year. "I have a season under my belt so I am a little more comfortable coming out of the OTAs and into camp."
Despite being more comfortable in year two, Gay says he will take the same mentality into this camp that helped him a year ago. "Even though I have a year under my belt I know that I'm fighting for a job each year. I know that there are rookies trying to come in and take my job."
Such a scenario is one that Gay believes will benefit him, as well as the team, in the long run. "Competition always brings out the best in people. As long as we have that here, we're always going to be a top notch team. If there is competition at every position, then that's good for the team."
Even with the experience and comfort level that he'll bring to this training camp, Gay refuses to predict Gay where he might fit into the team's plans for the defensive backfield.
"To me, my role is whenever the coach calls on me, I do whatever he asks," said Gay. "Whether it is a little or a lot, I am ready to just respond to whatever situation he puts me in."
If Gay continues to develop his abilities to make plays on the ball that he first showed last summer, predictions won't be necessary. Those are the kinds of players coaching staffs all over the league will find ways to get involved.