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Inquisitive rookie Charles Gaines growing within crowded Browns secondary

If you spot a silent Charles Gaines, take a picture. It's not a common occurrence.

On the field, Gaines likes to talk to himself, vocally going through his reads, assignments and anything else he spots before the ball is snaps. The Browns rookie cornerback repeats a simple message to himself over and over again: No balls should be caught on you.

In the meeting room, where he's surrounded by four Pro Bowlers and a bevy of other young, talented players, Gaines isn't shy. Whether it's his coaches, the safeties, the corners, whoever, Gaines wants to know what they think about this, that or anything else that might possibly help him improve.

"He'll just come up to you and ask you the most questions of anybody I've ever played with," veteran cornerback Joe Haden said. "It's really good because it's going to get him better."

Haden and the other recipients of Gaines' non-stop questions have seen Gaines turn a corner in recent weeks, a period that was highlighted by a surprise start in last week's preseason game against Buffalo.

There's no such thing as a smooth transition for rookie defensive backs, particularly within a defense that demands a lot from its final line of defense the way Cleveland's does, but Gaines is clearly in a better place than he was at the start of training camp. With a handful of injuries still hampering the Browns' depth in the secondary, he'll have another opportunity to show off his progress Saturday at Tampa Bay.

"He was having a rough go of it," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "To his credit he pushed through it and has put some solid work – I want to say the last 10 days were his best 10 days at camp. He has shown us a lot and he has steadily improved."

Gaines views it as a reflection of all the studying he's logged ever since the Browns selected him in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. His speed and athleticism propelled him throughout his career at Louisville, where he began as a wide receiver and ended as one of the team's most reliable defenders, but he's back to square one in the NFL.

Once that reality hit him, Gaines attacked the cerebral side of the game. He hasn't lowered his hand ever since.

"No question is a dumb question, so I try to go out there and ask as many questions as I can," Gaines said. "Not just the coaches, but the players. I want to get it from those guys that have been out there and put in so many hours and played a lot of games."

Because of Gaines' size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) and skill set, Pettine said in May that he likely projected best at nickel. When the Browns brought three cornerbacks onto the field against Buffalo, Gaines moved from his spot on the outside to the slot.

Second-year pro K'Waun Williams is Cleveland's primary option at nickel but he's been sidelined for close to two weeks with an abdominal injury. That, among the other nagging injuries in the secondary, has meant more serious repetitions for Gaines.

The motivation was always there, but the bright lights and excitement of his first NFL start doused kerosene on Gaines' fire. And the questions aren't coming to an end anytime soon.

"If coach wants me to go out and be the third-string nickel, the fourth-string nickel, the fifth-string nickel, I just want to go out there and do my job," Gaines said. "Once I do my job, I believe in the guys in front of me, and the guys behind me and aside of me they'll do their job, too."

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