Cornerback Justin Gilbert made his 2016 defensive debut Sunday night for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their big win over the Kansas City Chiefs and while the former first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns only played 8 total snaps in that game, head coach Mike Tomlin indicated Tuesday during his weekly press conference that he thought he played well.
“Justin Gilbert is just getting acclimated to us in the minute details of what we’re asking him to do to give him an increased chance of being successful,” said Tomlin. “He played a little package football for us, played 8 to 10 snaps, or so, on defense and if the circumstances allot, maybe he’ll get an opportunity to do that again.”
Tomlin was later asked if Gilbert’s role moving forward as a defensive contributor will only come as a matchup player or sub package cornerback.
“I think he’s still writing the script for that,” said Tomlin. “As he continues to learn the nuances of what we’re doing and display detail in his play, he’ll be provided an opportunity to grow and right now, the things that we’re asking him to do, some core special teams contributions and some package defensive work, he’s been above the line and that needs to continue.”
When Gilbert did play Sunday night against the Chiefs, there were a few times that he was matched up against Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, who is essentially used in their offense as another wide receiver. Tomlin was asked Tuesday if he liked the way Gilbert was able to deny Kelce a free release when asked to do so Sunday night when lined up against him.
“I did,” said Tomlin.
In light of Tomlin saying that, Kelce probably should have scored Sunday night on a short pass to him in the end zone with Gilbert in coverage late in the third quarter of the game as the pass that was thrown to him on one particular play was essentially dropped by the Chiefs tight end.
Being as the Steelers are likely to get rookie safety Sean Davis back this coming Sunday for the team’s home game against the New York Jets, Gilbert might not get much, if any, playing time in that contest barring in-game injuries taking place outside of him seeing the field on special teams. That is, of course, if starting safety Robert Golden is also healthy enough to play against the Jets as he missed the game against the Chiefs with a hamstring injury. Davis, who was nursing an injured back Sunday night, figures to return to his role as a slot defender against the Jets if he’s not asked to start at safety should Golden ultimately not be healthy enough to play.
Regardless of whether or not Gilbert plays Sunday against the Jets on the defensive side of the football, at least he’s making strides in his development, according to Tomlin, and that’s all you can really ask for at this point being as he was acquired via trade with the Browns right before the start of the regular season.