BEREA— Justin Gilbert is used to playing football with the pigskin in his palms.
“My first year playing defense was my freshman year in college,” Gilbert said. “I’ve been on offense most of my life. Just used to having the ball in my hands."
A high school quarterback in Texas, Gilbert threw for over 1,500 yards and rushed for 1,600 more over two seasons as a starter, but transitioned to defense once he enrolled at Oklahoma State.
Though he quickly showed his athletic prowess as one of the premier collegiate cornerbacks, Gilbert always felt comfortable making plays with the ball in his hands.
Without the ability to make plays with the football as a cornerback, Gilbert found a way to make an impact as a kick returner for the Cowboys and has been able to so again with the Browns.
“(It’s been) something I’ve been waiting on since I got here,” Gilbert said, of the chance to return kicks for Cleveland. “Finally, (I) got the chance to do it.”
In his first NFL action as a kick returner in week four against San Diego, Gilbert returned three kicks for an average of 36.7 yards per return, putting a smile on his face and confidence in the mind of special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, who tabbed him the team's kick returner going forward.
“It makes me feel good,” Gilbert said. “I feel I worked hard for it and just staying with it, knowing my chance will come at some point during the season. Now that it’s here, just got to take full advantage of it.”
After seeing Gilbert’s ability as a kick returner on display, discussion in Berea swirled about putting the ball in Gilbert’s hands on offense.
Browns head coach Mike Pettine divulged that Gilbert has taken snaps at scout team receiver and has looked decent in doing so, while offensive John DeFilippo said the possibility would be something the team would explore.
Upon hearing those comments, Gilbert was surprised.
“Yesterday I was hearing it for the first time,” Gilbert said. “People were texting me saying, ‘Congratulations on moving to offense.' I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I haven’t moved to offense.' Yesterday was the first time really bringing it up.”
Though he was surprised, he was definitely upset with the idea of moving to offense.
Rather, he seemed quite thrilled with the idea.
“If it happens, I wouldn’t back away from it. I would be happy to do it,” Gilbert said of a move to offense. “That’ll give me a chance to have a ball in my hands, which I like to do, so I would love it.”
It’s apparent that Gilbert would take an offensive opportunity with seriousness, but the feel is that it would take a lot to move Gilbert from the defensive position for which he was drafted.
No matter his place on the field, however, as long as Gilbert feels he’s helping the Browns, he’ll be satisfied.
“I’m an athlete. I’m a cornerback and if they want me to play anywhere else I can do that as well,” Gilbert said. “Whatever way I can help out the team.”
For all of your Browns news, updates and analysis from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.