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Old Man Willie: Steelers cornerback Gay taking on bigger role in youth-laden secondary

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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers' cornerback feels winning will cure the woes of a secondary that gave up plenty of big plays last season.

Gay is now the longest-tenured cornerback on the team following 's offseason retirement and he doesn't want to see last season's issues continue to plague a defense that carries aspirations of finishing at the top.

"I think that's pretty much the bottom line, is winning more," Gay said. "Winning more equals good praises. If you lose, people can find stuff to talk about."

Gay didn't give anybody much to criticize last season. He enjoyed a career year and served as a steady presence in the secondary when injury and inefficiency struck.

Gay began the season as a nickelback but shifted to starter when Taylor went down with a broken forearm in Week 3 and became the team's top cornerback after struggled and was eventually benched. Gay returned three interceptions for touchdowns, one of the few highlights for a unit that finished 25th in the league in picks. Gay would certainly like to see that ranking improve, but he realizes there's no magic formula to getting his hands on the football.

"The football gods have a mysterious way of how the ball bounces and how the games are played," Gay said. "All we can do is control what we can control and just play football."

The same can be said for welcoming three new rookies to the fold, including cornerbacks , a second-round pick, fourth-rounder and seventh-round safety .

Gay understands there's a learning curve and mistakes will be made even though the three will be counted on to heavily revamp a secondary that is without the retired Taylor and safety , in addition to cornerback , who left via free agency.

"The sky is the limit for everybody," Gay said. "The story is going to tell itself after the 2015 season. That's our mentality around here. We don't have any predictions. The only prediction is that we want to win the Super Bowl."

The Steelers won the AFC North last fall for the first time since 2010, but were eliminated by rival Baltimore in the wild-card round. It wasn't a Super Bowl appearance for the younger players on the team, but it's something to build on.

"A lot of guys got their first taste of the playoffs," Gay said. "Once you get a first taste of that, you're excited about getting to the next year and getting started."

That's why Gay - part of the 2008 team that won the franchise's sixth title - continues to put in the work, leading by example for the rookies who are just entering the fold. He's getting help from some old friends along the way. Allen and Taylor, who is with the team as a volunteer coach, were spotted running sprints after the team's offseason training workout on Wednesday.

Gay, the Steelers' 2007 fifth-round pick, said that type of work ethic comes from Taylor.

"(Ike) never left," Gay said. "He's always going to be around, he's always going to educate us. He's only a phone call away. Anything we see or anything we need help on, he's there for us and he told us he's not going anywhere."

But Taylor won't be alongside his mates in the secondary on the field this season.

So, Gay has taken charge, leading the way for a revamped group seeking redemption.

"I've seen a lot of players go and I've seen a lot of players come in," Gay said. "It's the business of football, but you can't hang your head. You have to carry on. That's what the guys who left would want us to do and that's what the new guys need to understand. We're just going to press forward."


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PHOTO: FILE - In this May 28, 2015, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay (22) stretches before participating in organized team activity in Pittsburgh. Following the retirement of Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu, Gay finds himself as the veteran voice of reason in a secondary in the midst of a youth movement. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
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