Browns' Gilbert struggles mightily in Bills scrimmage


Justin Gilbert has used the word "flawless" to describe his play this summer, but the second-year Browns cornerback has been anything but over the past week.

After being scorched by Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon in Thursday's preseason loss to Washington, Gilbert -- last year's No. 8 overall pick -- struggled mightily in Monday's scrimmage against the Buffalo Bills.

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Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal noted that Gilbert had a "nightmare of a practice," even with Buffalo holding Percy Harvin and Sammy Watkins out of 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 sessions.

Gilbert unofficially allowed an outrageous 11 receptions, per Ulrich, giving up four balls in one-on-one drills, one in 7-on-7s and six in 11-on-11s. "Gilbert didn't break up a single pass and surrendered a catch every time he was targeted," wrote Ulrich, who claimed that he's "never seen such a rough day."

"That's the life of a corner," coach Mike Pettine told reporters. "You have to have that short-term memory and be able to bounce back from a play. The best corners are confident corners, and that's something that comes from having success. And if he's in a little bit of a slump, it's on him. We have to help him, but he has to play his way out of it."

Pettine said the team won't "overreact" to Gilbert's on-field funk, saying: "You get them to stay true to their technique. When guys get in trouble, it's when their technique starts to slip. They start to do things out of structure to overcompensate. To me, it's a trust thing. Trust his own athletic ability, trust what we're telling him and just go out and take it play to play."

Gilbert entered training camp amid streams of praise from coaches and teammates. Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden in March called Gilbert a "very, very talented player" on his way to "growing up." Gilbert acknowledged that his disastrous rookie season "pretty much humbled me a lot," while his improved work ethic led secondary coach Jeff Hafley to say that the first-rounder "can start this year and play and help us win games."

Every game, all season

It's never really been about Gilbert's athletic gifts. He has all the tools to succeed, but has yet to show it on the field. Playing press cover in Pettine's Rex Ryan-esque defense is no easy chore, but the Browns don't have time to wait around for the light to go on.

The good news for Cleveland is that free-agent signee Tramon Williams has delivered as a starter across from Haden. Second-year defender K'Waun Williams also has the faith of the coaching staff, while last year's fourth-rounder, Pierre Desir, has seen his first-team reps rise after "catching everyone's attention with his on-field work and commitment to the team in the meeting rooms," per WKYC-TV's Matthew Florjancic.

Hungry to build a winner, Cleveland's depth chart is based on meritocracy under Pettine. In the coach's first season, hard-working veterans and productive undrafted players started over a rash of first-rounders and expensive additions.

The Browns desperately need their collection of high draft picks to grow into assets -- like, today -- but if Gilbert can't cut it, he isn't going to see the field come September.

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