Browns drop 'tough love' approach in development of cornerback Justin Gilbert

Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.

More takeaways from the Browns’ final OTA practice and press availability on Wednesday …

1. Can the Browns salvage something out of Justin Gilbert? While the Robert Griffin III and Terrelle Pryor offensive reclamation projects will garner the most attention at coach Hue Jackson’s first Browns training camp, Gilbert’s development figures to be defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s pet project. So far, the Browns have dropped the “tough love” approach of former coach Mike Pettine in dealing with Gilbert and have adopted a more congenial attitude. “He’s been sensational,” Jackson said. “He has done everything that we have asked him to do, the way we have asked him to do it. There is no question. I told him when I first talked to him that his slate is clean. Whatever has gone on in the past does not matter to me, and that is the way I am with all of our players. None of that matters. It is the picture that you paint now. He is doing a tremendous job. He is very talented, as we all know, but he has done everything right thus far. I am very proud of him, and I am very proud of the things that he is doing.” Jordan Poyer, who is the frontrunner to start at free safety, said, “To see him grow the way he’s grown on and off the field is something this team needs. This team is going to need him to help us win games. He’s becoming one of the guys and he’s getting more vocal every day on the field. It’s exciting.” Gilbert has been getting reps with the first team in OTAs as Joe Haden recovers from March ankle surgery.

2. Rookie linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah is another project for the defensive coaches. The transition from 4-3 defensive end in college to 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL is not one that takes place over one training camp, much less over one season. “I’d say I still have a long way to go, but I’m learning every day and doing the thing I’m supposed to do and that’s having good practices,” Ogbah said. The general rule of thumb is to break in these ‘tweeners as an outside rush specialist as a rookie. Overloading them with all the responsibilities of the 3-4 outside linebacker can be counter-productive. “It was fun today watching him come off the edge a couple of times,” Jackson said. “It felt like a real game there. He’s very explosive. He’s a big man. He is truly starting to understand the NFL game and what it takes to play up here each and every day.” While discussing Ogbah further, Jackson gave a glimpse of what the 2016 season is going to be about for the Browns. “We drafted these players for a reason, and we want to give them an opportunity to see if they can play,” he said. “This is where it starts, but we will truly find out in training camp.”

3. Josh McCown is handling his uncertain status as well as any player I’ve seen. As of now, anything and everything is on the table for McCown. He could start (longshot). He could be the No. 1 backup (most likely). Or he could be a late summer roster cut (possible). His fate depends on the progress shown by both Robert Griffin III and rookie Cody Kessler. In an interview to be aired Saturday on the #HeyTony Show on ESPN Cleveland 850 WKNR, McCown said, “I’m a human being and there’s no doubt you want things mapped out. I want easy. But for me, in my life, I’m a lot better when I’m forced to live day to day. When I’m forced to have faith and work hard, I’m better. And I don’t get caught up in two, three months down the road; two, three, four days; whatever. Just focus and attack this day. For me, I’m better as a person, husband, father, as a player … all those things, I’m better. I don’t like it, but I think it helps me. So that’s my goal, just to help this group any way I can.”

4. Early reviews are that the Browns’ historically enlarged and totally revamped strength and conditioning program is paying off. After hiring Welsh Rugby Union legendary high performance director Adam Beard and adding a total of seven strength coaches – seven! – the Browns expect to put more players on the practice field and fewer on the stationary bikes. So far so good. “We are not having the soft-tissue issues that we have had before,” Jackson said. “We have players on the field that are practicing every day, and we are not getting as much of the pulls. We get the normal tweaks that every football team gets, but at the same time, for as hard as I think we push them, Adam and his staff are doing a tremendous job of getting our team into the best shape that we can be.” This will be a recurring item to monitor during training camp, of course.