During the 2014 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers were particularly interested in one cornerback at the top of the first round, enough that they made inquiries about the possibility of trading up for him, but he never even made it out of the top 10 picks that year, and the Steelers were picking at 15.
That cornerback was Justin Gilbert, and he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. In the span of the past two years, however, his career has caromed off the road, unable to earn playing time ahead of even undrafted rookie when bodies were needed at various points last season. In fact, he logged just 50 snaps, after logging 363 in a rather ugly rookie campaign in 2014.
Many have wondered if his career might already be over, at least from the perspective of living up to his draft stock and becoming a starting cornerback. For defensive coordinator Ray Horton and the Browns’ new regime, however, it is a clean slate.
As Horton told reporters at Cleveland’s OTA session yesterday, new head coach Hue Jackson has instilled in his new staff and in his players the idea of the clean slate, saying that Jackson “has done a great job of displaying the message—we weren’t here and we don’t know what went on”. In other words, the only things that we know about you as a player are what we are seeing now, and that is what we will judge you on.
One thing that Horton saw in Gilbert working in OTAs was an issue with his playing stance. The veteran defensive coordinator—and former Steelers secondary coach—asked Gilbert to change his stance after reviewing some of his in-season footage over the past two years.
Horton did not make light of the significance of such a change, likening it to learning a different route to work on the fly. But “he changed it in one practice”, he said, “and it shows that he is going to do what we ask of him to do. That’s all we want as coaches, is to give us your best effort and Justin is right now”.
The Browns are not significantly deep at the cornerback position, as was shown last season. Joe Haden should return to the starting lineup after missing much of the season with issues stemming from a concussion, while Tramon Williams should remain on the opposite side in the starting lineup.
They did acquire Jamar Taylor from the Dolphins during the draft, who started six games and played in 12 last year, registering 48 tackles and four passes defensed. There is also K’Waun Williams, the team’s primary slot cornerback last year, and the as-yet-developed Pierre Desir and Charles Gaines.
While they have enough bodies to fill up a depth chart, Gilbert does possess tempting physical attributes that, if he could manage to put them all together, would be rather tempting. I do have a hard time imagining that they would give up on him after two seasons without giving Horton and Jackson a chance to turn him around. He has also been a kicker returner for the team.