For two seasons, Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert has been a first-round bust overshadowed by a flashier, better-known first-round bust in his own locker room.
Now, Johnny Manziel and everyone who drafted and coached Manziel and Gilbert in their first two seasons are gone. And Gilbert still has a chance to become a contributor.
The Browns are thin at cornerback, and top cornerback Joe Haden is sitting out this spring while rehabbing an ankle injury. That means Gilbert is getting plenty of snaps as he tries to prove he belongs in the NFL.
“We weren’t here and we don’t know what went on the last two years,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton told reporters Wednesday, per the team’s official transcript. “All we know is what went on film and tape from today. Everybody has a clean slate, and you go out and work hard. Is [Gilbert] a work in progress? Yes. Is he carrying anything from four months ago? Not in my book he’s not. He’s just one of the players that we want to help us win a championship here.”
The Browns drafted Gilbert with the No. 8 overall pick in 2014, 14 spots ahead of where they picked Manziel. And Gilbert’s struggles on and off the field the last two seasons were overshadowed by Manziel’s more public exploits.
Horton said the new Browns staff is treating Gilbert “fairly” but not differently and wants Gilbert to know he has a chance to turn his career around.
“He has a lot of God-given ability that was, as coaches, have to get out,” Horton said.
Gilbert faced team discipline multiple times over his first two seasons, had multiple injury issues last season and was involved in a road rage incident last fall. Though he had an interception for a touchdown against Andrew Luck as a rookie, he never earned much significant playing time. Gilbert has played in 23 games over two seasons. He played in nine, starting one, last season.
On the field, Horton said the Browns have tinkered with Gilbert’s “elongated” stance, and that Gilbert offered no resistance. Gilbert said the right things last offseason about growing up and learning from his mistakes, and maybe this year the fresh start inside the Browns’ building will help him get his career on track.