BEREA— When the Browns selected Justin Gilbert with the eighth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, fans dreamed of the cornerback teaming up with Joe Haden and creating a defensive duo teams could only dream of.
After a tough rookie season and a sophomore campaign mired in mystery, those same fans are hoping for any sort of production at all from Gilbert.
Luckily for them, they just might get it— but not in places they might expect.
“When he has the ball in his hands, he can do something with it,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said. “Sometimes, with numbers and injuries, we’ve had to throw him on offense at wide receiver and doesn’t look out of place.”
While Pettine said that Gilbert’s time at wide receiver has been limited due to the team’s depth at the position, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said that the possibility of Gilbert on offense is certainly possible.
“I know he’s working really, really hard on the defensive side of the ball,” DeFilippo said. “But, that’s definitely something we’ve talked about and are going to explore.”
Though Gilbert’s offensive prowess is still a work in progress, the sophomore has secured another spot on the field thanks to his athleticism.
According to Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, Gilbert will be the guy returning kickoffs for Cleveland for the foreseeable future.
“He’s going to be our guy back there. He’s doing a nice job for us,” Tabor said. “I was really pleased with how he hit the ball up in there. I thought his vision was good, his ball security was good. That’s a nice step for Justin.”
Tabor said too that Gilbert’s made other special teams plays that have made him a valuable part of the unit.
“When Travis returned that one from the eight-yard line, I mean, the guy that really sprung it, started it, was Justin,” Tabor said. “I thought he played well, he set a bar for himself and hopefully this week we can increase that.”
As he’s secured a special teams spot and continues to play around in the Browns offense, Gilbert is still looking for extended snaps on the defensive side of the ball.
With Joe Haden inactive, it would have seemed that Gilbert would be a logical fit to replace the Pro Bowler, but defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil had an explanation as to why No. 21 didn’t see much time against San Diego’s offense on Sunday.
“Justin got all his reps inside on the slot. He was going to be our sub, speed, all of our multiple DB packages, he was going to backup Tramon in the slot,” O’Neil said. “Bademosi was going to backup both corners. He was going to backup Joe. He was going to backup Pierre. That’s how we practiced all week. When the Joe thing happened, we were going to go with Badi because that was our plan all week. We weren’t going to deviate from our plan.”
Just because Bademosi was the plan against the Chargers, doesn’t mean that Gilbert won’t see time in the future at cornerback.
After all, O’Neil seems to be encouraged by the progress he’s made at the position.
“He’s had three great weeks of practice. He really battled through the hamstring injury which could have been a major setback for him I thought it showed some toughness when he was up for us for the Oakland game, even with him being a little hurt,” O’Neil said. “I like the direction he’s going.”
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