By Brian Dulik
BEREA — Cornerback Justin Gilbert was a major disappointment — on and off the field — during his rookie year with the Browns.The No. 8 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft was inactive for two of the final five games, angering team officials with his immaturity and lack of professionalism.Based on the comments of Cleveland defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, Gilbert remains a work in progress.
“He’s further along than where he was last year, but I still think he has some ground to make up,” O’Neil said Monday at training camp. “He’s had some really good moments and he’s had some bad moments, obviously, but he’s just got to be more consistent.“That’s the one thing, if you had to put your finger on it, he’s just got to be more consistent — every single play from practice to practice and from game to game — if you’re going to be out there fulltime.”
Gilbert’s latest setback is a hip flexor that has prevented him from practicing for a week. Prior to the injury, the Oklahoma State product played poorly in the preseason opener against Washington and was even worse during a dual-practice with the Bills in Rochester, N.Y. Gilbert also exasperated his coaches and teammates by rating his technique against the Redskins as “flawless” except for “one play.
“It’s just a process guys, it just takes some time,” O’Neil cautioned. “Some guys, it might happen a little quicker, some guys it just might take a couple years. I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. You just have to continue to fight and push through.”
Making the process harder for the 6-foot, 202-pounder is the system — or lack thereof — that he played in with the Cowboys.
O’Neil compared it to backyard football, where improvisation was the prevailing theme. He added that most cornerbacks can fall back on their technique, but if it isn’t there, bad results ensue.
“There are guys, and Justin is not the only one, where they can show the technique on the practice field,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “But you have to be able to take the next step. Sometimes, you get in a game and you revert back to poor habits.”
Despite the poor early results, O’Neil said no one on the staff has given up on Gilbert. Nor have Cleveland’s scouts, who didn’t find any red flags during their pre-draft investigative process.
“Everything you look for is there,” O’Neil said. “The athletic skill sets are there, the size is there, the length is there. You just have to have short-term memory and you have to have confidence, especially in our scheme.”
Injury update: Linebacker Paul Kruger, safety Donte Whitner, guard John Greco, running back Shaun Draughn, cornerback Tramon Williams and defensive ends Desmond Bryant and Randy Starks were given the day off to rest by Pettine. Not practicing were wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (right hamstring), defensive tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (groin), safeties Tashaun Gipson (calf) and Jordan Poyer (concussion), tackle Michael Bowie (shoulder), fullback Luke Lundy (concussion), tight end Randall Telfer (foot), running back Glenn Winston (knee), and cornerbacks Joe Haden (hamstring), Robert Nelson (hamstring), K’Waun Williams (abdominal), Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (knee) and Gilbert.
Linebacker Barkevious Mingo (knee surgery) and quarterback Connor Shaw (right thumb) will not be medically cleared until at least the start of the regular season.
Counting down: Pryor’s ongoing absence remains a big topic of conversation in Berea. The NFL cutdown date to 75 players is Sept. 1, while the final reduction to 53 is Sept. 5.
“Absolutely, there’s got to be a sense of urgency from Terrelle,” DeFilippo said. “It was a shame he went down because I thought he was making unbelievable strides, moreso than many other players that I’ve seen trying to change positions at this level.”
Pryor has only practiced once since straining his right hamstring on Aug. 4. Pettine and DeFilippo continue to say his ability to serve as a third-string QB will not factor into his roster status.