Nearly every article written about the Cleveland Browns over the offseason has made some mention of Johnny Manziel or Josh Gordon. Everywhere you look, a columnist is writing about Johnny Football's antics or Gordon's inability to stay clean. The player you haven't heard much about is Justin Gilbert.
Selected #8 overall in the NFL Draft this spring, Gilbert has quietly worked hard while everyone has focused their attention on Johnny Football. But Gilbert doesn't mind.
The Oklahoma State product spoke with Ross Tucker on the July 16th edition of the Ross Tucker Football Podcast. Gilbert gave all the right answers, especially to important questions on Johnny Manziel and Joe Haden.
A former NFL offensive tackle, Tucker doesn't like to beat around the bush. At the beginning of the interview, Tucker asked Gilbert about 'Johnnymania,' and if it ever feels like people forget that he was picked before Manziel.
"It might feel that way sometimes, but it's Johnny Football, so I wouldn't expect anything less," Gilbert said.
Tucker pressed on, asking if Gilbert is bothered by all the hoopla surrounding Manziel.
"Not at all," Gilbert said. "I like it, I like that we got him, and we're looking to build this team with him and around him on the offensive side. I think it was a good pick for us to get him."
Tucker then moved on to Gilbert's alleged weakness: inconsistency. In May, CBSSports.com's draft evaluation called his footwork and technique inconsistent, and other analysts agreed.
Gilbert didn't shy away from the criticism.
"I would agree. I'm not perfect. There's still some things I need to work on technique-wise," Gilbert said. "Just practicing everyday, working on the little technique things that I need to do in order to be a better player. That's what I've been working on so far, so it will all come together sooner or later...For me, the thing I need to work on is a little bit of off-technique and just getting into my backpedal, staying low, and being able to come out of my break faster."
Despite his "inconsistency" in college, critics couldn't ignore his athleticism and man-coverage ability at Oklahoma State. Gilbert can't wait to show off those skills at the NFL level.
"I feel really comfortable getting up in a receiver's face, pressing him, playing him man-to-man," Gilbert said. "I feel like I can run with anyone down the field."
As Tucker correctly pointed out, Gilbert is in the perfect situation.
As a defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine loved to call for man coverage. With Joe Haden and now Gilbert, you can expect Pettine's defense to play an increased amount of press coverage.
"The first thing he asked me when I got that call in New York was, 'Are you ready to play some press-man [coverage]?' I told him, 'Yes, sir,' so I think I'll fit in well here," Gilbert said.
Picking up Pettine's defense will still take time: memorizing an NFL-sized playbook is no joke. Gilbert is making solid progress so far.
"Especially for the corners, it's a lot easier than everyone else's job," Gilbert said. "It's a lot of man-to-man, so it's fairly easy to me. A lot harder on the field than in the playbook for corners, but I've been picking it up pretty good."
Tucker raised an interesting question: How does Gilbert learn the playbook? Does he just look at his responsibilities or does he try to understand what the entire defense is doing?
"I only look at what I'm supposed to do, first of all, to make sure I have my job down pat," Gilbert responded. "Then I look at everything that's going on around me, as far as bunch, trips, the motions, and the shifting formations. Once I get all of that down, I think I'll be pretty well off."
Everyone talks about the speed of the game in the NFL. Every player is much more athletic, making the transition tough for many rookies.
Gilbert noted the difference in speed, but also made an interesting point about the mental aspect of the game.
"[Comparing it to] the Big 12 with the offenses, it's no huddle offense going back-to-back-to-back, you have to be in shape," Gilbert said. "I think this is more of a mental game on this level than a speed [game], so the better you know your playbook, the better off you'll be."
One player who knows that better than anyone is Joe Haden.
The Pro Bowl cornerback doesn't have off-the-charts size or speed, but he's one of the best in the league at his position. Tucker asked why Gilbert thought Haden is so successful.
"I think his work ethic and his technique. He has tremendous technique," Gilbert said of his new teammate. "I was just watching his tape before I got out on the field...He doesn't have to be one of the fastest guys because he's one of the smartest."
Browns fans will be glad to know that Haden has already taken Gilbert under his wing, giving him a few wise pieces of advice.
"[He told me] just to come in every day and work, no matter where I was drafted," Gilbert said. "He was drafted #7 here, and he came in here every day ready to work. He gave me a couple of pointers to stay focused on, and the little things I needed to do to put myself in a better position to play in the fall."
One thing that Tucker and Gilbert did not discuss was Gilbert's lack of a contract. Rookies report to Browns training camp on July 23, and there is no indication that a deal will get done before then. As The Plain Dealer and Pro Football Talk have noted, the issue could be over offset language in the contract. But as former agent Andrew Brandt tweeted, Gilbert might want his "annual salaries broken out in early (March) roster bonuses."
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, rookie holdouts have become much more rare, giving Browns fans hope that the deal will get done before the first public session of training camp on July 26.
Either way, the future is bright for Justin Gilbert.