, Muskogee, OK


June 12, 2014

Oklahoma State ex making a name for himself with Browns

BEREA, Ohio — Unlike Cleveland’s more famous first-round draft pick, Justin Gilbert likes to keep things low-profile, ducking the limelight.

No, he’s not Johnny Manziel — off the field.

But when he’s on it, the confident rookie cornerback — drafted by the Browns with the No. 8 overall pick, 14 spots ahead of Manziel — doesn’t mind the attention. In fact, go ahead and throw the ball in his direction. Just be ready to deal with the consequences.

Manziel found that out Wednesday, when he floated a pass over the middle toward rookie wide receiver Kenny Shaw that was nearly intercepted by Gilbert, who swatted it to the ground and then gave his celebrated teammate an earful.

“I should have picked it off,” Gilbert said. “I told him after that play, after we went over to the sideline, I was like, ‘You’re welcome.’ It should’ve been my first NFL interception, but I didn’t make it.”

The Browns are counting on Gilbert to get his hands on many more.

Last month, Cleveland’s new regime made the former Oklahoma State star its first draft pick. The Browns had been expected to select a quarterback with the first of their two first-round choices, but they went instead with Gilbert, a 6-foot, 202-pound blend of size and speed.

When the team later chose Manziel, the pressure was at least somewhat taken off Gilbert.

“Yeah, a little bit,” Gilbert said, “and that’s fine with me.”

Gilbert is currently behind Buster Skrine on Cleveland’s depth chart, but the 22-year-old has every intention of moving into the starting lineup. Pettine said Gilbert is making steady progress, but there are still times when he gets himself into trouble.

This is a new level, and Gilbert is adjusting to faster, stronger players.

“He’s on the learning curve,” Pettine said. “He’s kind of put himself in situations where he’s testing his ability to make up (speed). I think a lot of corners, I don’t want to say play scared, but they’ll stay on top and they get beat underneath a lot. I think the elite guys will let a guy get slightly past them but will make up speed and they can still make a play on the ball.”

Pettine knows a quality corner when he sees one. After all, he coached Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis in New York. Pettine likes taller, stronger cornerbacks who can be physical with receivers coming off the line of scrimmage and disrupt their routes.

To Pettine, cornerbacks are the cornerstones of a defense.

The Browns are hoping to pair Gilbert — as long as he wins the job — on the opposite side of Pro Bowler Joe Haden.  That could be a lethal combination for Cleveland.

Gilbert understands that if he’s out there with Haden, he’ll be the one quarterbacks come after.

“Yeah, Buster told me that last week,” Gilbert said. “He was like you’re going to get a lot of balls thrown at you. They don’t throw to Joe’s side, so that’s going to give me a lot of opportunities to make plays.”

In addition to studying his playbook, Gilbert said he’s been seeking advice from Haden, who has been more than willing to show him the ropes.

Haden is letting Gilbert figure things out on his own, too, but if he sees the youngster struggling, he might give him a pointer.

“Any little mess ups I have or things that would give a bad name for myself, then yes, he’ll pull me to the side and explain everything to me,” Gilbert said.

After he was drafted, Gilbert was immediately dragged inside the intense spotlight that follows Manziel wherever he goes. The new teammates traveled from New York together and appeared side-by-side at an introductory news conference, where most of the questions were directed at Manziel.

Gilbert wants to be known for more than being “the guy drafted before Manziel” and he’s getting more comfortable in being recognized around Cleveland.

“I didn’t think most people would know my face,” he said. “I was at the mall yesterday and some guy said, ‘Are you Justin Gilbert?’ I’m just getting used to it. I used to lie to people and say, ‘No we just look alike.’  It’s good to be here.”

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