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Cleveland Browns first round pick Justin Gilbert battling Buster Skrine at cornerback

Posted Jun 11, 2014

Cornerback competition a juicy one

Late in practice on Tuesday, Justin Gilbert nearly picked off a Johnny Manziel pass. Gilbert jumped the 15-yard drag route, extended his lengthy frame and knocked the pass down with his outstretched left arm.

“After, I went back to the sidelines, I told [Johnny], ‘You’re welcome,’” Gilbert said jokingly about his near-interception of a Johnny Manziel pass. “It should’ve been my first NFL interception.”

When asked if he thinks he will be the starter, Gilbert replied, “Most definitely.” Gilbert’s a confident player with a high ceiling. Although he will likely see the field early in the regular season, there could be a waiting period before Gilbert is announced as a starter.

His counterpart and last year’s starter, Buster Skrine, isn’t just showing flashes of improvement during OTAs and minicamp. Skrine looks markedly better in all aspects of playing cornerback. He’s consistently recognizing routes, using his athleticism to make plays and rarely getting beat.

“The competition definitely makes you work a lot harder because everybody out here wants to play,” said Skrine. “We got a lot of young corners out here. We really don’t have any old guys in the secondary right now. Everybody is either new, or just peaking at their position.”

It’s been noted the Browns’ cornerbacks will be playing much more man-to-man in 2014, as opposed to zone. The coverages will still bait quarterbacks into making throws into crowded areas, but more significantly, this defense will be predicated on cornerbacks holding their receiver in check. This type of style has Skrine in more of a comfort zone.

Gilbert, who has yet to run much with the first-team starters, is counting down the days until the Browns throw on the pads for training camp.

“That’s going to allow me to be more aggressive at the line,” said Gilbert. “And get my hands on them early. That’s something that’s been emphasized early. Getting the hands on the receiver and destroying the route before it even starts.”

This competition is only beginning.

Notes and Quotes

  • The offense has been giving the Browns’ defense some problems in the last two days of minicamp. In a rare moment, the normally low-key Mike Pettine paused practice to go and talk to his defensive linemen after Terrance West gashed the unit for a big run.
  • “This is me speaking as a receiver: I feel like we’ve been dominating this week,” said Nate Burleson, who has been a limited participant in team drills. “As a group, the wide outs have been doing a really tremendous job of taking advantage of opportunities. Hawkins is virtually unstoppable.”
  • There was quite the scuffle between Phil Taylor and Garrett Gilkey that spilled on the ground. Both players apologized and made up. Pettine mentioned on Tuesday he could tell the intensity had been revved up a notch. Wednesday it was apparent. The chirping from the players was non-stop. Pettine said he wanted competitive practices. He’s got them.
  • Even with Joe Thomas resting on the sidelines today and Joel Bitonio nursing an ankle injury, the offensive line moved in sync. It’s always satisfying to see reserves practice well at one of the hardest positions to keep all the starters healthy.
  • Much has been said about the Browns’ wide receiving corps. Burleson likes that the unit is hungry. There are proven players like himself, Miles Austin and Earl Bennett, who were stiffed by other NFL clubs. And there’s guys trying to make a bigger name for themselves like Anthony Armstrong and Chandler Jones.

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