Cleveland Browns rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert is a first-round bust – today.
Gilbert has plenty of time to change that, of course, and he aims to.
A potentially limited Joe Haden (hip injury) could thrust Gilbert into action Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I know what I’m capable of,” said Gilbert, the No. 8 overall pick in May’s draft, on Thursday. “I just have to make plays. That’s all I can say.”
He hasn’t said much on the field as he’s watched his snap count diminish from 50-plus in the opener to nine last Sunday at Tennessee.
Yes, an undrafted rookie has outplayed him. But K'Waun Williams is more suited as a slot corner, which is what the Browns need with Haden and Buster Skrine already on the outside. At 6-foot and 202 pounds with ideal athleticism, Gilbert fits the press-man corner mold coach Mike Pettine likes.
But though coaches have supported Gilbert this week, they’ve made clear his technique and fundamentals haven’t warranted significant playing time.
Gilbert said his fundamentals have been an issue “from time to time," but not always. Until Gilbert knows exactly what to expect on the field, his athleticism and range will be minimized.
“Just trying to right now continue to think about what I’m supposed to do each time I’m out there on the practice field so it will translate to games,” Gilbert said.
Though Gilbert is confident Haden will play, he’s not prideful about Williams edging him for playing time, or even undrafted rookie Robert Nelson pushing for snaps this week. He credits Williams for outplaying his unheralded status out of Pittsburgh.
Gilbert wants to correct his play at Pittsburgh that cost the Browns in a close game, including a big gain to Markus Wheaton that set up a game-winning field goal.
Getting the ball with a reasonable amount of space on a Sunday in Cleveland against a divisional rival would satisfy that plan.
When asked about possibly returning punts to make a positive play, Gilbert said, “I guess I just have to do it myself on defense, take one away from somebody.”
Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer doesn’t know Gilbert's situation in Cleveland but is confident in Gilbert’s football mentality long-term.
“Justin’s a competitor and he’s always been a fighter,” Spencer said.