New Pittsburgh Steelers CB Justin Gilbert on making a fresh start

He wouldn't bash the Browns or make guarantees, but Justin Gilbert is happy for a change

PITTSBURGH -- Justin Gilbert had a lot more trouble handling Antonio Brown than he did the media following his first practice with the Steelers.

Then again, doesn't every cornerback?

Having been described in various ways, from "troubled" to "malcontent" to just plain "bust," Gilbert deflected questions about his past with a simple, "It's not what I want to talk about."

That was his answer to a question about "distractions," as his then-coach had called the personal issues which swirled around Gilbert during his rookie season after he was chosen eighth in the 2014 NFL draft.

It was a disastrous rookie season that ended with a suspended finale. Gilbert vowed to turn it around, and thought he did last season.

The Browns' new coach, Hue Jackson, seemed to agree. Last June, Jackson told the Akron Beacon Journal that Gilbert "has been sensational. He's done everything we've asked him to do, the way we've asked him to do it."

But for whatever reason, Jackson couldn't find room for Gilbert with the new Browns and traded him to the Steelers for a 2018 sixth-round draft pick.

The Steelers figured they would never be able to claim Gilbert off the waiver wire -- with their late claiming position -- and that the 6-0, 200-pound cornerback with 4.3 speed and kickoff-return ability was worth the late draft pick and the guaranteed $3 million Gilbert will cost over the next two seasons.

And so the rare intra-division trade was made.

Was Gilbert surprised?

"A little bit surprised," he said. "I was happy and shocked at the same time. But I’m just excited for this new and fresh opportunity with these guys. Everybody has welcomed me with open arms. I’m just ready to get to work."

Gilbert didn't blast the Browns, nor did he make any guarantees about being able to help the Steelers. Again, he had just finished trying to cover Brown in practice, a task even the best in the Steelers secondary find humbling.

Does Gilbert feel he needs this fresh start?

"I wouldn’t say I needed one," he said. "But it’s good to have one."

He may not believe in "fresh starts," but he's certainly excited to be in Pittsburgh.

"Words can’t even explain how excited I am right now," he said. "I’m just grateful."

After his first practice, Gilbert was asked to explain the difference in the environments of the two teams.

"Oh, it's a lot different," he said of Pittsburgh. "It's a little bit more laid back, but I think everybody here knows what this team is capable of. And at the same time, when we hit the practice field it was a whole different level. I'm excited for that every day."

Gilbert said his goal is to "continue to be consistent, as I've been the past year."

So at least he believes he's begun to mature after his difficult rookie season.

"There are a lot of things that can distract you when you come in fresh out of college," Gilbert said. "But after a year in the league and not getting done what I wanted to get done in my first season, it's kind of changed me and made me a new man for sure."

Of course, all the maturation in the world isn't going to matter if he can't play his position. He said he felt comfortable behind Ross Cockrell on Monday.

"I think it's going to work out good. I like it. I like it so far," he said of a system that "allows corners to make plays."

NOTES -- various media outlets reported that rookie Javon Hargrave -- listed as the starting nose tackle on the team's press release -- left practice with a "tweak" in his knee. ... Stephon Tuitt confirmed that Daniel McCullers and Ricardo Mathews returned to practice from injuries, therefore lessening any possible loss of Hargrave. ... Ben Roethlisberger gave his No. 7 to new QB Zach Mettenberger for Monday's practice "to make him feel welcomed," Roethlisberger said. Mettenberger had worn the number with the Tennessee Titans. Roethlisberger wore No. 5 in honor of Bruce Gradkowski, out for the year on Injured Reserve. ... Gilbert wore No. 24 at practice. The former No. 24, Doran Grant, was signed to the Buffalo Bills practice squad. ... Cam Heyward (ankle) confirmed that he practiced in a limited capacity Monday and issued "very close to a guarantee" that he'll be playing in the opener Monday at Washington.

(For the complete Justin Gilbert interview transcript, click here.)

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