Mark Duncan/Associated Press
First-round pick (eighth overall) out of Oklahoma State
Justin Gilbert certainly passes the eye test, according to Cleveland's secondary coach Jeff Hafley. "If you make up a corner in a video game, that's what you want him to look like," he told David Andersen of The Plain Dealer.
Hafley continued, "I think he is playing very confident right now. He's starting to understand the scheme. Starting to understand were his help is. He's getting better every day, which is really exciting."
Head coach Mike Pettine's defensive schemes traditionally thrive on attacking the quarterback from multiple angles, which in turn leaves the outside corners on an island to handle receivers.
The Oklahoma State product's pure athleticism, acceleration and ability to hang with speedy wideouts give him a natural edge on paper over his primary opponent for the starting job opposite Joe Haden, Buster Skrine.
Haden told David Andersen of The Plain Dealer, "(Gilbert) has all the tools that you need to be a legitimate, lockdown outside corner. Tall, fast, strong, can play the ball really well and at the same time Buster is not slacking off."
Start or Not
The best ability is availability, and if the rookie wants a starting gig, he needs to remain impressive on the field.
Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer reported on Thursday that Gilbert suffered what appears to be a minor setback:
Cornerback Justin Gilbert, who's been breaking up passes all week and earning some reps with the first team, sat out practice Thursday with groin injury and his status for the game is in doubt.
'Gilbert is a little bit nicked,' said Pettine. 'I don't know (if he'll play).'
The injury comes at a time when Gilbert is gaining ground on Buster Skrine for the starting cornerback job opposite Joe Haden.
'I love it,' Gilbert said of his first-team reps. 'I feel comfortable when I'm in that position, and it always raises my level of play when I'm in there with them, knowing that I've got those guys, the first unit, there. Playing with those guys, it just feels like the right place for me.'
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and reporter.
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