Gilbert wants to erase criticism of rookie year

Published 4:22 pm Sunday, December 28, 2014

BEREA (AP) — Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert is ending his season confused, offended and determined.

Nobody said it’s easy being an NFL rookie.

The No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft, Gilbert has been a major disappointment, so much so that a few of his teammates were publicly critical of him in recent days, saying he had “wasted” his first season.

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Following practice on Friday, Gilbert said he was hurt by some of those sharp remarks and promised to atone for his missteps.

“I’m not mad at anyone about it, I brought it upon myself and I can take that and roll with it,” he said. “I messed up, but I can promise my teammates I’m going to make it right.”

The Browns used their first pick this year to select the 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert, a dynamic defender and return specialist at Oklahoma State. The team believed that by putting him on the opposite side of Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden the Browns would have one of the league’s toughest defensive backfields. But it didn’t go according to plan as Gilbert made just two starts, was passed on the depth chart by undrafted free agent K’Waun Williams and Pierre Desir, a fourth-round pick, and was benched.

He didn’t perform on the field and had a questionable work ethic away from it.

Gilbert refused to get into any specifics about what may have prompted safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Karlos Dansby — two of the team’s most respected veterans — to speak out about him. Browns coach Mike Pettine said he didn’t have a problem with any teammate giving “tough love” to another.

“I’m not a person to judge my teammates and put it out there in the media like that,” Gilbert said. “If I have a problem with somebody, I would address them face to face and that’s just all I can say about that.”

Gilbert said part of the problem could be that he’s not outgoing and his quietness may have rubbed others the wrong way. Gilbert felt some of the criticism may have been a little too personal.

“I think it may have crossed the line a little bit,” he said, “but at the same time we’re all here to do the same thing and that’s win and provide for our families. So some of the things were right and some of the things could’ve been kept to themselves.”

Gilbert would not address if he has been late to meetings.

“We keep family business in the family,” he said.

Earlier this week, rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel acknowledged he may have misjudged the transition to the NFL and said he intends to work harder in the offseason. Gilbert agrees with Manziel and that he may have taken some things for granted.

Not anymore.

“I think I came along as the season went on and I think I made some pretty good plays down the stretch that weren’t really noticed or talked about like the plays that I didn’t make that were talked about at the beginning of the season, so it’s just how things went I guess,” he said. “I’ve just got to come back next season and turn it all around. … I can assure everyone here that I will work a lot harder, in the offseason and during the season. That’s one promise I can make.”

Does he want to be great?

“I will be great,” he said.

Gilbert said his enthusiasm for playing with the Browns has not been dampened. If anything, he’s more determined to show the team he was worthy of a high pick.

“It definitely sparked a flame inside of myself to want to prove a lot of people wrong and a lot of doubters,” he said. “That’s going to be one of my main goals next year. I think it’s just a little, minor setback for a major comeback.”

NOTES: Versatile CB Buster Skrine, an unrestricted free agent following the season, said he hopes to re-sign with Cleveland. Browns defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil would like to see that happen. “I would love to bring Buster back,” he said. “He’s one of my favorite guys on the defense. He embodies ‘Play Like a Brown.’ I don’t ever want to let good players walk out the door.” … DL Ahtyba Rubin will not play in Sunday’s finale because of a left ankle injury. Rubin, who played in his 100th game with Cleveland last week, is also a free agent. … S Jim Leonhard insists Sunday will be his final game, ending a 10-year NFL career. “Getting out there in the fourth quarter knowing that it’s the last one, I’m sure the emotions will hit,” he said.