In his exit interview Dec. 29, Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert said one of his goals was to stay in regular communication with his teammate, and a guy he considers his mentor, Pro Bowler Joe Haden.
"He's just such a good dude," Gilbert said. "He comes in with the same attitude every day, always with the biggest smile in the room."
Gilbert followed through on those plans and recently flew down to Miami to meet up with Haden at LegacyFit, a gym where several professional athletes train in the offseason. Haden posted a picture of the two together Tuesday.
"He is growing up," Haden said in a recent interview. "Justin's a very, very talented player. It's just going to take a little bit of time."
So what exactly has Haden been preaching to Gilbert this offseason?
"We talk about plays, talk about things off the field, what I need to do to get better," Gilbert said. "And how to carry yourself like a pro."
Gilbert's rookie season in Cleveland had a few highs – like his pick-six touchdown on Andrew Luck using an advanced trap technique in coverage.
But the lows were prevalent, too. Thrown in the fire Week 1 against the Steelers, Gilbert was beaten by receiver Markus Wheaton late in the fourth quarter to set up Pittsburgh's game-winning field goal. Three months later, the Browns' regular season finale was marred by the fact that Gilbert was put on the inactive list for being late to a team meeting.
In 14 games, Gilbert had two starts, 29 tackles and one interception.
"We've definitely seen flashes of his ability, and we've seen it in games as well," coach Mike Pettine said in December. "I could make a 20-play cut-up of him where he'd look like one of the elite corners in the league, and I could make another 20-play cut-up where you wouldn't take him until Day 3 of the draft. In this league, it's all about being consistent."
That consistency Pettine speaks of begins in the offseason, and that's what Haden has been drilling home to his counterpart. Haden has had lengthy discussions about how his 2012 suspension for a violation of the league's controlled substance policy became a turning point in holding himself accountable.
Haden can nudge Gilbert into trusting his substandard rookie season can be used as leverage to have a turning point early in his career.
"Mainly, professional football really is a business," Gilbert said of what he learned in Year 1. "You have to come to work every day and prepare like it's your last day. You have to prepare to be a starter even if you aren't the starter. You have to be ready at all times because it really is a grinding business.
"Just seeing three Pro Bowlers from our classroom, it shows me that the hard work from the OTAs to the season can really pay off. It's where I want to be next season."