BEREA, Ohio–Justin Gilbert wants to leave the past in the past.
Gilbert hopes to build on a solid off-season and use it to springboard him to a much improved second season with the Browns.
The Browns had high expectations for Gilbert in 2014 after they traded twice in the top 10 of the 2014 NFL Draft in order to draft him eighth overall. However, after starting the opening game of the 2014 season, things started to spiral out of control for him.
He was beaten out for the starting job by Buster Skrine and had a rough day in his NFL debut against the Steelers’ Markus Wheaton. Gilbert was then passed on the depth chart by undrafted rookie free agent K’Waun Williams soon thereafter.
“I think last year pretty much humbled me a lot, and I learned from my mistakes,” Gilbert said at last month’s minicamp. “I’m just looking forward from here on out, and coming to work every day with the same attitude, love being around my teammates and communicating with them more than last year, so its been pretty good so far.”
Gilbert ended his season being suspended and had just one other start other than the season opener. He finished with 29 tackles, eight passes broken up and one interception. His interception was the high point for the season as he returned the pick for a touchdown against the Colts.
Secondary coach Jeff Hafley sees a different Gilbert in year two.
“Justin’s doing well,” Hafley said. “I think he’s become more consistent. I think he’s focused, and I think he’s determined right now, which is really important. I think it’s become apparent that it has become very important to him. You see him frustrated when balls are caught on him. You see him buying into the coaching, and it’s been fun to see. Energetic, he’s been all in, and that’s important to us.”
Gilbert flashed some of his athletic skills last season and did so on the first day of minicamp when he made a nice play on a ball and intercepted a pass in 7-on–7 drills.
Hafley said he wants to leave last year behind, as well.
“I just see a level of focus,” Hafley said. “I see a more consistent attitude and a more consistent approach to the game. Maybe he’s learned. Maybe he’s learned from watching the guys we have in the room. I like to look forward. Like I said, you don’t need to talk about where we finished last year.
“As a secondary, we don’t want to think about where are players were last year because that’s over,” he said. “What I see right now is a guy who looks like he’s on a mission. If that can continue he certainly has the talent and the ability, and it’s exciting to coach him right now.”
Gilbert spent part of the off-season working with Joe Haden and others and feels he’s ready to rebound in his second season. However, he realized he needed to mature as an individual.
“In just talking to the coaches, some of the players, some of my teammates, Ray Farmer after the season was over with talking about how I have to grow up, have some maturing to do,” Gilbert said. “I kind of took it to heart.”
Gilbert said although his rookie season was rocky, he thinks it will help him in the long run.
“I wish it didn’t happen that way, but I think it really helped me as well,” he said. “We fixed everything and everybody’s on the same page now, so there’s no hard feelings toward anyone.”
Gilbert said it’s his goal to win over the coaches by his consistency each day and there’s only one way to do so.
“Just by my actions, that’s the best I can do, prove it every day.”
When it’s all said and done, many are wondering if Gilbert will ever live up to the draft hype of the eighth overall pick of last year’s draft.
“I most definitely will be,” he said confidently. “One hundred percent.”