Its been one full week since the Pittsburgh Steelers acquired cornerback Justin Gilbert in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. While we’re unlikely to ever know the real reason why the Browns decided to move on from the former first-round draft pick after just two seasons, it’s still interesting to hear what their coaches have to say about Gilbert now that he’s gone.
During his Friday session with the media, Brown defensive coordinator Ray Horton was asked what happened with Gilbert as it relates to what he failed to see out of the Oklahoma State product during his time in Cleveland and if he still believes the young cornerback still has a future in the league.
“Athletically, no question,” said Horton. “He worked hard. Obviously, he got hurt in the Tampa Bay game. What we decided to do was move on to get players on the field who were healthy right this second to go. He worked very hard for us and the organization and at this point, I think our organization just said, ‘Let’s move on and get guys in the room, on the field, that are ready to go this direction.’ Not that he wasn’t. He was trying very hard to do what we asked him to do.”
In hindsight, you could probably see that Gilbert’s exodus from Cleveland was forthcoming just prior to him being traded to the Steelers based on comments made by Browns head coach Hue Jackson a week ago Friday.
“Justin did some things better (this preseason),” Jackson said during a conference call. “Everything has an opportunity to be evaluated, everything that every player’s done. Our goal and our job is to make sure that we keep the best players here.
“Do I think he’s improved? Yeah. Are we going to sit down and evaluate and talk through every opportunity that a young man has had and we can see where they fit for our football team? We’re going to do that also.”
Horton, as many of you know, was the Steelers defensive backs coach from 2004-2010. After leaving Pittsburgh, he has since been a defensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals, Browns and Tennessee Titans before landing back to Cleveland this past offseason. While Horton wasn’t in Cleveland when the Browns originally drafted Gilbert, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler believes the time the two worked together this year during the offseason will make the young cornerback’s transition to what the Steelers do defensively somewhat easier.
“Justin hadn’t been with us but for very short period of time so he’s still learning the defense,” Butler said Thursday. “But some of the stuff that he brings over, Ray Horton used to coach over there, so some of it is the same for him.”
While Gilbert isn’t likely to see any playing time in the Steelers defense for at least the first few games of the 2016 regular season barring injuries, you can bet the organization didn’t trade for him to merely be their kick returner moving forward. He’ll be on the field playing one of the two outside cornerback spots at some point during the 2016 season, it’s just a matter of when and whether or not his play is good enough to warrant keeping him on the field.