Justin Gilbert is loving Cleveland's new defense almost as much as his clean slate

Loving Cleveland's new defense, a more "mature" Justin Gilbert has taken advantage of early first-team reps in Training Camp.

BEREA, Ohio-- A clean slate was exactly what Justin Gilbert needed.

Fortunately for the third-year cornerback, that's exactly what he's been given.

After two tumultuous seasons with the Browns, Gilbert is feeling more mature than ever, thanks in large part to the renewed chance provided to him by coach Hue Jackson. 

"It just feels different when I walk in the building now," Gilbert said. "I’m thankful that he gave everyone that opportunity."

Over his first two years in Cleveland, Gilbert was far more a problem for the Browns than a productive player. 

Off the field, the cornerback missed many meetings-- calling himself a "hard sleeper"-- and was involved in a road-rage incident that ended with his car in a ditch. 

On the field, the first-round pick couldn't cover much of anyone and found most of his productive playing time as a returner on special teams. 

Entering his third training camp, however, Gilbert feels like a new man.

Not only has he been spending all of his time at corner, but he's been doing so with the first-team defense in Ray Horton's 3-4 system as Joe Haden recovers from offseason ankle surgery. 

The cornerback has appreciated the extended repetitions against Cleveland's best receivers, but he's far more excited about playing in the new scheme.

"Oh, I love it. I love it," Gilbert said. "It kind of reminds me a little bit of the defense I played in Oklahoma State, where we got to mix it up a little bit."

Oklahoma State, of course, is where Gilbert was named a consensus All-American during his senior year, which helped him to land in Cleveland with the eighth overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.

He believes that the Cowboys-like defense will help him finally play to that first-round caliber for the Browns this season. 

"Hopefully," Gilbert said, "this’ll give us some opportunity to make some plays this year."

While he's excited about the new defense, Gilbert is excited as well about the new coaching staff, including Horton and defensive backs coach Louis Cioffi. 

The cornerback appreciates that the staff is hard on him, which he feels that he needs at this point in his career. 

"(The coaches are) always staying on me and if I slip up or look like I’m not doing something that I look like I can be doing better, they’ve been pretty good on letting me know," Gilbert said. "Each day, coach is staying on me about being the best corner I can be."

Cioffi, like Jackson, gave Gilbert a clean slate, forcing him to judge the cornerback on only what he's seen first-hand. 

Thus far, the DB coach is impressed by his experience. 

"I focus on what I see with him," Cioffi said. "He’s really done everything we’ve asked him to do from a technique standpoint. He’s been great in the meetings, so I’m excited."

As the preseason continues, Gilbert's only hope is to continue to make good impressions on his newfound, clean slate. He wants as many reps as possible on the field and in the meeting rooms to ensure that, once and for all, his new image can be a positive one. 

"Preseason is just like a practice to me-- the more you rep something the more it becomes a habit," Gilbert said. "The more reps we can get in with practice and then the preseason games, the better we’ll be come the regular season. Just got to be ready for it."

For all of your Browns news and updates from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove


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