Head coach Mike Pettine and all three coordinators spoke to the media Thursday afternoon, just as they always do. CB Justin Gilbert's name came up quite a bit from all four people, so let's take a look at what we learned:
He's Been Promoted to the Top Kick Returner Spot
The days of WR Marlon Moore and RB Shaun Draughn as the team's primary kick returner have come to an end. Last week, Gilbert handled kickoff duties because Draughn had a back injury, and he delivered a strong performance. He attempted to return three kickoffs, which went for 35-, 37-, and 38-yards. The Browns began those respective drives at the 35, 30, and 33 yard lines, which is pretty good starting field position to hand to the offense.
On Thursday, special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said, "He's going to be our guy back there [from here on out]. ... He's a guy that's been progressing and maturing for us. What he did in practice merited him being back there."
While Tabor is excited about Gilbert contributing on kickoffs, there might not be anything to get excited about this week. Ravens K Justin Tucker has attempted 22 kickoffs, logging touchbacks on 20 of them. If Gilbert brings it out from the back of the end zone, he'll be doing a disservice for the offense.
He Could be Used as a...Wide Receiver?
The thought of Gilbert transitioning to wide receiver crossed my mind a couple of days ago -- not because I expected it, but because sometimes your mind just wanders about what crazy thing this team will do next. When a reporter asked head coach Mike Pettine about Gilbert being used on offense, he acknowledged that they've already done so in practice for injury reasons:
Pettine on Justin Gilbert: We've had to throw him at WR during some practices due to injuries, and he hasn't looked out of place— Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones) October 8, 2015
That doesn't mean the Browns are doing it every week, and I could see how we could have a little fun reading too much into Pettine's comments for a couple of days before moving on from the thought. However, when offensive coordinator John DeFilippo came out a little later to discuss Gilbert, he poured a whole tank of gasoline into the fire by telling the media, "[Gilbert at WR] is definitely something we've talked about and are going to explore."
How Far Back is he on the Defensive Depth Chart?
The No. 8 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft is now the starting kick returner, and could be toyed with as a wide receiver. What about the position the team drafted him so high for, cornerback? Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil was asked why Gilbert received so few snaps this past Sunday with multiple cornerbacks out:
#Browns O'Neil: Gilbert didn't play much last week because he practiced as backup nickel to Tramon Williams and Bademosi practiced outside.— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) October 8, 2015
In a way, it makes sense. Defensive coaches are often finicky about nickelbacks -- if you are the backup nickelback, the team isn't going to alter two spots on the depth chart mid-stream. They'll preserve the depth chart they practiced with that week. Long-term, Gilbert can't be viewed as a nickelback, though -- K'Waun Williams will be back this week, and when Charles Gaines returns later this year, he'll be the backup nickelback. Tramon Williams would also be ahead of Gilbert in terms of preference for the "nickelback" role. At that point in time, Joe Haden, T. Williams, and Pierre Desir would likely be ahead of Gilbert for a spot as an outside cornerback, but I'd have to believe that Gilbert would get in ahead of Johnson Bademosi. Still, it doesn't seem as though Gilbert will contribute much at cornerback any time soon.