Coach Mike Tomlin has stirred -- if not shaken -- up a Steelers secondary carved recently as if it were a holiday dinner entree.
Tomlin yesterday informed starting cornerback William Gay that his role would change for this week against Baltimore, at least.
Gay was demoted to nickel-package duty at cornerback while longtime starting left cornerback Deshea Townsend was elevated to the first team. Townsend will continue to cover the slot receiver in the nickel.
"That was the decision Coach gave me. That's the game plan, I guess," Gay said after yesterday's practice. "You got to always go with the head coach. He makes the best decisions to suit the situation. I just got to go in and do my best. The season isn't over yet. And you're always one play away [from an injury to a regular player]. You definitely want to stay ready."
Townsend remains a trivia question poignant to the secondary's current woes: Who is the last Steelers cornerback to intercept a pass in a regular-season or playoff game?
"Probably would be me," Townsend answered correctly, in reference to his pick against Baltimore in the AFC championship game -- 15 such games ago. "Let's see if we can get it done this week."
The Steelers have allowed 308 and 383 yards passing in their past two home games, against the Raiders and Packers, and three touchdowns apiece. They rank second-to-last in the NFL with just eight interceptions, none by cornerbacks.
Safety Troy Polamalu said the results of a magnetic resonance imaging on his injured knee were "encouraging," but added that it is unlikely he will return to practice this week, meaning he will not play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Polamalu has missed the past six games with a strain to the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, an injury that can take up to six weeks to heal.
Missing practice yesterday because of injuries were: defensive end Brett Keisel (neck), reserve cornerback Anthony Madison (illness), backup halfback Willie Parker (knee) and receiver Hines Ward (hamstring), who usually sits out Wednesdays along with linebacker James Farrior, a healthy scratch from practice.
Limited in practice were: halfback Rashard Mendenhall (hip), receiver Mike Wallace (knee) and reserve cornerback Keenan Lewis (back).
Left guard Chris Kemoeatu, who sat out all of last week to rest an ailing wrist, returned to practice and considered himself healthy enough to start.
Graybeard receiver Joey Galloway, who really does have a gray-flecked beard, was gleeful about donning black and gold. Long snapper Jared Retkofsky felt a tad bittersweet over the situation that placed him back in those colors.
So went the first official day of work for those signed Tuesday to replace Limas Sweed (illness/personal) and Greg Warren (successful surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament yesterday), who were put on injured reserve.
"You always dream of those opportunities," said Galloway, a 15-year vet who grew up a Steelers fan in Bellaire, Ohio.
He was cut Oct. 20 by New England, returned to his Columbus, Ohio, home to prepare for the holidays and got the call from the Steelers while Christmas shopping.
Retkofsky had workouts with Washington, Atlanta and Houston while selling real estate in Fort Worth, Texas, where he admittedly wore to work the Super Bowl XLIII ring he won while filling in last year when Warren tore the ACL in his other leg. He actually got the call from Warren, who told him of the opening.
The Ravens signed cornerback Corey Ivy, who spent the week before the Nov. 29 Baltimore game as a member of the Steelers. ... The Steelers submitted their ballots yesterday for the Pro Bowl a week before the Super Bowl in Miami. They weren't allowed to vote for teammates, however.