Gipson solidly plugs free safety hole

Posted Oct 10, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says Browns free safety Tashaun Gipson has succeeded in easing concerns of those who wondered if he had what it took to handle the job.

The Cleveland Browns’ secondary was supposed to have at least one gaping hole, if not two.

There was plenty of preseason hand-wringing over the cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden. So far, the concerns have proven mostly unwarranted because of some very solid work by Buster Skrine and Chris Owens.

There was even more angst about the free safety position. Few, if any observers, thought that Tashaun Gipson, who joined the Browns last year as an undrafted free agent, could satisfactorily handle the job. Many fans and other team observers were disappointed the Browns didn’t find an answer at free safety in the draft (sixth-rounder Jamoris Slaughter wound up on the practice squad) or the open market (where nothing materialized).

Even some members of the coaching staff privately expressed some anxiety over the free safety picture during training camp. After all, the book on Gipson was pretty slim. He did appear in 10 games as a rookie, but mostly on special teams. Gipson made three starts and did have an interception, but he missed six games (five with a knee injury and one with a foot injury).

But Gipson has performed well enough through the Browns’ 3-2 start to calm nerves and help contribute to their having the third-ranked defense in the NFL. He has one of their four interceptions, as does Skrine. Strong safety T.J. Ward has the other two.

Gipson ranks second on the team with eight pass break-ups. Skrine leads with 10.

But his coverage, while impressive, doesn’t compare with his ability to deliver crushing hits. Gipson is tied for second on the Browns, with Skrine, with 32 tackles and is third in solos with 24 (behind the 29 of linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and 27 of Skrine).

His eye-opening play notwithstanding, Gipson understood why there were questions about him. “I was one of the lesser-known guys on this defense, as well as this (entire) team,” he said.

However, to Gipson, lesser-known did not translate to liability. He believed in his skills and in his ability to make the significant strides that many players tend to make from their first to their second seasons. He was confident he could grasp the many nuances of the Browns’ new 3-4 scheme. He was convinced he could make a difference.

In short, the skeptics fueled a raging fire inside of him that continues to burn.

“I wanted to pride myself in proving all of the doubters and spectators that this Cleveland Browns defense can be a proven defense, (including) the free-safety position,” Gipson said. “I wanted to take any doubt out of anybody’s mind, including anybody in the organization and the coaching staff.”

Mission accomplished.

“Gipson has just been a pleasant, pleasant -- I don’t know if you want to call him a surprise -- but he has really solidified that secondary,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “Going back and looking back in the spring, and hoping that he would come along, and he has. And he’s making big plays.

“You see his confidence growing every week. He understands the defense, making the calls, all those type of things. I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”

For Gipson, the list of qualities that have helped him make an impact begins with his instincts. He patrols centerfield with a tremendous awareness of where he needs to be to make plays and when he needs to be there.

Some of that is natural. Some of that is from closely studying the best safeties in the game, such as Ed Reed.

“Any time I’m in a deep field, whether it’s hash to hash or sideline to sideline, any time the ball is in the air deep, I truly pride myself on getting my hands on the balls,” Gipson said.

He takes equal pride in making contact, whether it’s run support or with a would-be receiver.

“I think in this league, to be a safety, you definitely have got to be able to come down and be physical,” Gipson said. “And you’ve got to pride yourself and instill that kind of fear, per se, to the opponents, whether it’s the receivers fearing coming across the middle or whether it’s running backs fearing if they get open it’s not going to be an easy day.”

A chip on the shoulder can be a highly effective form of motivation.

So, too, can making the people who entrusted you to do a job look smart – especially when so many others wanted someone else.

“They gave me that confidence,” Gipson said. “They instilled their trust in me and I wanted to definitely show the coaches and the upper management that they made the right decision in giving me that opportunity.”

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