Just prior to the start of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers acquired cornerback Justin Gilbert via a trade with the Cleveland Browns. However, since arriving in Pittsburgh, Gilbert has played all of 11 defensive snaps with the bulk of them coming in the Week 4 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
On Monday, veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was asked to tell what he knows about Gilbert’s development so far after going up against him in practice all season, and more importantly, whether or not he knows the playbook which could ultimately result in him perhaps receiving more playing time in the team’s final seven games.
“I really don’t know much if he knows the playbook or not on the defensive side, but he’s out there working against us on the scout team and does a little bit on the defensive side,” Heyward-Bey said. “He’s getting better. I don’t know if he’s quite ready yet to be out there full-time, but he’s getting better.”
It’s not the least surprising that Gilbert isn’t seeing the field as part of the defense being as rookie Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell are now both installed as starters and with veteran William Gay manning the slot position in sub packages.
Gilbert’s minimal usage in the game against the Chiefs was by design as he was asked to cover tight end Travis Kelce when on the field.
While Gilbert has seen some snaps on the Steelers special teams units in the games that he’s dressed for so far this season, he’s still not being used regularly as a kick returner. In Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys, backup running back Fitzgerald Toussaint once again served in that role. On the season, Gilbert has all of three kickoff returns for 69 yards.
As things stand right now entering Week 11, Gilbert isn’t even likely to play as much as former cornerback Brandon Boykin did last season barring any injuries. Boykin, like Gilbert was acquired via a trade right before the start of the regular season.
When the Steelers play the Cincinnati Bengals for a second time in Week 15, it will be interesting to see if Gilbert winds up being part of a sub-package designed to limit the effectiveness of their tight end Tyler Eifert, as he’s a vertical threat weapon just like Kelce.
For now, however, expect Gilbert to dress on a weekly basis and play mostly on the kick coverage unit.