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Browns DB Justin Gilbert 'humbled,' ready to redeem with consistent play

By the time training camp rolls around, Justin Gilbert plans to have a picture of Buster Skrine hanging in his locker.

Skrine, who signed a lucrative deal with the New York Jets during the offseason, was one of Gilbert's best friends from last year's team. The photo, though, has little to nothing to do with their close relationship.

It has everything to do with what Skrine accomplished in his final season with the Browns, when he beat out Gilbert, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, for a starting job and held onto it from start to finish.

"I came in and everyone was expecting me to take his spot and he didn't say a word about it," Gilbert said after Thursday's OTA. "He just went out every day and proved himself on the practice field. That's the same thing I intend on doing."

Gilbert, on a day in which he knocked down a number of passes as a first-team cornerback, was reflective and confident in his first interview of 2015. He said he was "humbled" by a disappointing rookie season and vowed to prove he was capable of rebounding with his actions.

"I learned from my mistakes and am just looking forward from here on out and coming to work every day with the same attitude and love being around my teammates," Gilbert said. "I'm communicating more than last year. It's been pretty good so far."

Gilbert's expectations for himself remain high, and he said he would "100 percent" prove he was worth such a high draft pick. Secondary coach Jeff Hafley is similarly confident.

Even if the Browns trot out two-time Pro Bowl defensive back Joe Haden at one cornerback spot and veteran Tramon Williams, who was signed in March after a long run with the Green Bay Packers, there's still an important role available for Gilbert in this stacked Cleveland secondary.

"I see a level of focus. I see a more consistent attitude and a more consistent approach to the game," Hafley said. "Maybe he's learned from watching the guys we have in the room.

"I do believe he can start this year and play and help us win games."

Gilbert did more than just watch the Browns' veterans. He joined Haden in Miami for a workout session that went viral and served as one of the more uplifting moments of the offseason.

Gilbert, one of the most athletic players on the entire Cleveland roster, added 10 pounds of muscle, but there was a much more important takeaway from his time in South Beach.

"It showed me this is really a sport that you have to be committed to year-round," Gilbert said. "You can't really take too long off from this game or you will be behind in a lot of things. Just continue to grind weekly, monthly, whatever the case may be."

Gilbert said he has also had "heart-to-heart" talks with Hafley, assistant secondary coach Aaron Glenn, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil and general manager Ray Farmer. Browns coach Mike Pettine has praised Gilbert for the noticeable changes he's made while continuing to stress the consistency that will be required for Gilbert to earn a significant role in a Browns secondary that is confident it can be one of the NFL's best in 2015.

Hafley said "it's become apparent" that football is "very important" to Gilbert.

"You see him frustrated when balls are caught on him. You see him buying into the coaching, and it's been fun to see," Hafley said. "Energetic, he's been all in, and that's important to us."

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