Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert was the first draft pick of the Ray Farmer/Mike Pettine regime. That often gets lost as 14 picks later, the Browns selected a much higher-profile player, Johnny Manziel.
Gilbert has been lost in the shuffle since.
He’s been in Pettine’s doghouse both last season and this season, and even though he returned an interception of Andrew Luck for a touchdown last December, his on-field success has been limited. This season, he’s barely been on the field at all except to return kickoffs. Still, the Browns aren’t giving up on Gilbert because of their investment in him — and because he’s big and fast and has tools the team thought it could develop when it drafted him.
Gilbert seems to be a natural with the ball in his hands, and that prompted a reporter to ask Pettine Thursday if the team has considered moving Gilbert to the offensive side of the ball. Pettine said the Browns have used Gilbert as a receiver at times in practice because of a shortage of available players.
“And he doesn’t look out of place,” Pettine said.
Pettine was just answering a question, so there may be nothing deeper here. Or, maybe it’s worth a shot because the Browns aren’t using him on defense and are still searching for answers at receiver with the Dwayne Bowe Experiment yielding nothing and the Terrelle Pryor Experiment having been ended last month.
Later Thursday, Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said moving Gilbert to receiver is something he and Pettine “have talked about and are going to explore.”
Gilbert suffered a hip pointer in August during a joint practice with the Bills that lingered into September. He debuted in Week 3 vs. the Raiders, playing two special teams snaps and none on defense, and with the Browns short on cornerbacks last week in San Diego the coaches chose Johnson Bademosi, generally a special teams player, to play in nickel and dime defenses over Gilbert. Pettine wasn’t happy with Gilbert following a road rage incident in September for which he was cited but not arrested.
Last February, Farmer said Gilbert was dealing with a “very personal” issue that compounded his struggles as a rookie. The Browns have time to still get return on their investment, and Gilbert has time to rebound, too. But the question of whether it’s worth trying a position change, even on a part-time basis, to jumpstart what’s been a disappointing career is a valid one.