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Browns Mailbag: What's the 2nd half of the season look like for Justin Gilbert?

It's a sun-splashed Veteran's Day here in Berea, and the day is only expected to get better.

At today's practice, 90 military guests representing all five branches and the USO of Northern Ohio will be welcomed. Afterward, there'll be a meet-and-greet.

Make sure to check out more coverage at later today. On with the questions!

Are we ever going to see Justin Gilbert get DB reps? Know we was in doghouse last year but can't understand how guy we picked No. 8 overall is behind undrafted DBs. - Brad M., Albuquerque, N.M.

For the record, this question was submitted 24 hours before Thursday's game at Cincinnati. The Browns answered it a bit against the Bengals, as Gilbert saw a season-high 23 defensive snaps. Both he and Pierre Desir combined to help fill the void left by Joe Haden, who was out with a concussion for the second time this season. Haden remains in the league's concussion protocol and could very well miss his fifth game of the season when the Browns face the Steelers.

The snaps, in general, were a step in the right direction for Gilbert, who has been primarily used on various special teams units, including kick returner. When it became clear Gilbert would be Cleveland's main man on kick returns, a number of his teammates speculated it would lead to more confidence and, subsequently, more playing time at defensive back. Thursday's game is a small sample size, of course, but it's nonetheless a step in the right direction.

"He did some good things," Browns coach Mike Pettine said one day after the loss to Cincinnati. "I thought there were some times where his eyes wandered a little bit. He's got to do a better job of staying focused on his work. He made some plays. I thought the one play he got beat on early, gave up and inside release on the vertical, showed his recovery speed and made a nice play in the end zone."

When Haden returns, those snaps will be harder to come by, but Gilbert is getting an opportunity to state his case for more this time around.

A look at all the best photos from the past week, including games versus Arizona and Cincinnati.

The running game has struggled and I haven't seen the team utilize a sixth offensive lineman to mix just to try and show a different look. It seems it may help in the development of Cam Erving. Have they used it and I just missed it? - Eric H., West Chester

The Browns implemented this look sporadically through their first nine games. It didn't happen every game, but in some it brought Erving on the field for as many as four snaps. It wasn't a lot, but it was something.

"Sometimes it can create some problems defensively having an extra lineman out there, but he earned that playing time," Pettine said after Cleveland's Week 1 loss to the Jets. "As I've said before, people want to be critical, but Cam has a bright future in this league, he's going to play a lot of football for us and that was just another way to get him out on the field."

That package won't be necessary to get Erving on the field this week. He'll be filling in for injured left guard Joel Bitonio against the Steelers.

Danny Shelton hasn't made very many impact plays. At 30 pounds lighter, Jamie Meder seems much more explosive. Do you think the Browns should put Shelton on a weight loss program? - Ernest S., Sacramento

I don't. Shelton and Meder may play the same position, but they're two different players with two different bodies. Though Shelton hasn't flashed as much as some may have expected, he's doing what the coaches want from him far more than he isn't, and he continues to log a significant number of snaps in the middle of Cleveland's defensive line.

I read today that the Browns offensive line is ranked second through eight games by Pro Football Focus, first in pass blocking and fifth in run blocking. Am I nuts or is PFF off its rocker? If a line is ranked fifth in run blocking, shouldn't we be able to open holes? - Joe R., Toledo

The Browns offensive line hasn't played up to its own expectations this season, and every member of that group will be the first to admit it. Recently, there was some frustration from the group when it came to the pass protection issues that allowed Josh McCown to take so many hard hits against the Rams and Cardinals. PFF puts a lot of work into what they do, and that's respected by players and reporters who reference their rankings, but there's an understanding that it's impossible to tell the entire story of what goes into every single play.

With that in mind, this is another indication that the struggles of the Browns running game go beyond the offensive line. It takes all 11 on every play to mount a successful running attack. The Browns, for a variety of reasons, also have shown a knack to be pass-heavy in the second half.

Pettine explained Friday why this has happened in recent games. The Browns have led at halftime just twice this season.

"I think a lot of it is a function of how teams are playing us. A lot of our plays are double called. So it is depending on the look – what is being given to us," Pettine said. "To me, we are a 'by any means necessary' team. You go back to the Baltimore game where we had to throw it to be successful. I want to always have that flexibility in our offense that we can lean on either end of the spectrum, run or pass. I don't see it as potentially giving up too early. I just think that is flow of the game type thing."

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