It’s been a rough couple of seasons for Cleveland Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert. After being selected No. 8 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, Gilbert performed miserably, both mentally and physically. Last season, he started just one game, after continually being beat out for playing time by other, less-heralded corners who populated the roster. In a joint practice with the Buffalo Bills ahead of the 2015 season, Gilbert was often burned by Bills wideouts in both one-on-one and team drills, foreshadowing things to come. Off the field, he was suspended for missing practice on the morning after he reportedly attended one of former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel’s parties. There was a road rage incident, as well as a lingering concussion. If Gilbert could erase the past two years, chances are he would.
There’s a(nother) new coaching staff in Cleveland, though, and they aren’t ready to give up on Gilbert just yet. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton, in his second stint with the Browns, noticed something off about Gilbert’s defensive stance immediately after watching film and seeing Gilbert in person. Horton said Gilbert’s stance was “too elongated,” throwing him off balance and making him vulnerable to wide receivers running by him. On the very first day of OTA’s, Horton changed Gilbert’s stance.
“He changed it in one practice, we all commented on it, and it shows that he is going to do what we ask him to do,” Horton told clevelandbrowns.com. “That’s all we want as coaches is to give us your best effort and Justin is right now. We were all amazed that it was no big deal. We asked him to do it and he did it.”
Gilbert ran a 4.37 40-Yard Dash at the NFL Combine in 2014, and his speed and overall athleticism intrigued the Browns. But whereas in college, Gilbert could rely on his turbo booster to recover if a wideout beat him off the line, it hasn’t been able to save him in the NFL. Perhaps a new stance and a renewed focus on mechanics and balance will help him regain the skills worthy of a first round pick.