It's a label that can stick to an athlete like glue, providing a one-word summary of why an player isn't a perfect fit at any position.
The word can be applied to a player who considered to be a little too slow to play linebacker and a little too small for defensive end. Former Brown John Thierry had the label stuck to him in his NFL travels.
The label can also be applied to a player who is not quite big enough to be considered an NFL linebacker and perhaps not fast enough for an NFL safety.
Being a "tweener" says nothing about an athlete's heart, dedication, or skill. But it says a lot about how hard it is to make it in the demanding, cold, and sometimes heartless world of the NFL.
David Gibson has undoubtedly heard the word. Even in his college career, the newest Cleveland Brown bounced back-and-forth between being a linebacker and strong safety. As a freshman, Gibson was a back-up defensive back. As a sophomore and junior, he was a linebacker, becoming an honorable mention All-PAC-10 both years. As a senior Gibson switched back to strong safety, where he made 81 tackles and was named to the All PAC-10 first team.
But in the NFL, roles are refined with scientific precision. Teams like their safeties fast and their linebackers big. Gibson, despite his college success, wasn't a peg who could fit into either of those holes neatly.
When the 2000 draft rolled around, Gibson dropped all the way to the sixth round, where he was selected by the Tampa Bay Bucs with the 193rd pick in the draft. A similar appraisal dropped one of the Browns' undrafted free agents, Josh Buhl, all the way out of the 2004 draft, despite his leading the NCAA's Division 1-A in tackles in 2003.
Often, a player in Gibson's position can make a mark on special teams, which is where Gibson first appeared as a rookie. Other than special teams, Gibson was primarily a back-up until Bucs starting safety John Lynch was injured in 2001. Replacing Lynch, and also during the final game of the regular season, Gibson got some extended playing time and registered six tackles each game.
Following the 2001 season, however, Tampa Bay's defensive-minded head coach Tony Dungy was replaced by fair-haired offensive guru Jon Gruden. The shift worked, as the 2002 Buccaneers went to the Super Bowl. Gibson, however, wasn't a favorite son of the new brain trust, who may have viewed him as being neither a perfect fit at safety or linebacker.
Dungy, meanwhile, went to the Colts, and remembered Gibson as a tough player and, moreover, as a smart player who understood how the safety position worked in his Cover-2 offense. When injuries forced Tampa Bay to create roster room to sign offensive linemen, Dungy traded a future draft choice to the Bucs for Gibson.
Given the opportunity, Gibson flourished in the starting role for Colts. During that season, he piled up 81 tackles, a sack, an interception, and four passes broken up. Gibson started in the post-season for the Colts, making five tackles.
But then - another bad break, at least from Gibson's perspective.
In the 2003 NFL draft, the Colts were pleasantly surprised to find All-Everything safety Mike Doss from Ohio State available late in the second round. Doss moved quickly into the starting lineup during the 2003 pre-season and, despite Dungy's reservations about losing the DB who knew his defense best, the Colts tried Gibson back at linebacker late in training camp. He was cut in the final roster reduction late in August.
It wasn't over for Gibson, however. In October, Gruden and the Bucs called back and Gibson returned to Tampa Bay. Several weeks later, Gibson was forced into the lineup against the Saints due to another injury to Lynch. Playing in a new defensive scheme, Gibson was almost immediately torched by TE Boo Williams, who ran free and scored a 31-yard touchdown.
Before the game was over, though, Gibson had redeemed himself on special teams, racing in to block a Saints punt which was eventually recovered on New Orleans' one-yard line to set up a pivotal scoring opportunity.
At the end of the 2003 season, however, the Bucs weren't motivated to re-sign Gibson, by then an undrafted free agent.
The former All-PAC 10 safety wouldn't get another chance until someone else's bad break, in this case Sean Jones' knee injury, created an opening.
Breaking into the starting line-up of an NFL team requires dedication, toughness, and frequently characteristics that are hard-wired into DNA: Build, speed, height. In the sometimes cruel world of the NFL, those without the proper dimensions can find themselves looking in from the outside.
But, five years later, David Gibson is still here. This week, he got another chance to show what he can do.