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Hue Jackson on Justin Gilbert: 'He's been sensational'

As big of a mess Johnny Manziel was for the Browns, the returns on Justin Gilbert haven't been much better.

The third-year cornerback has started just three games since he was taken with the eighth overall pick in 2014. The Browns got just 201 snaps out of Gilbert last season, and when he played, he was far from a difference-maker.

New coach Hue Jackson acted decisively with Manziel, quickly releasing the troubled passer/party boy in March. Gilbert, though, has been given a clean slate.

"That's how we've approached it since we've been back," Gilbert said Thursday, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. "The coaches have been pretty clear about starting fresh and having a brand new start and not looking in the rearview mirror and just going straight forward from here on out. It feels good."

Gilbert's rookie season was plagued by an undisclosed personal issue, but that doesn't explain his slow development on the field. Former Browns veterans Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner openly critiqued Gilbert's desire, but Jackson told reporters the cornerback has been a solid teammate during his tenure.

"I can't talk about what's gone on here in the past with him," Jackson said. "I know it's well-documented, but that's not the young man that I've met since I've been here and talked to and have exchanges with. He's been sensational. He's done everything we've asked him to do the way we've asked him to do it.

"I told him when I first talked to him that 'your slate's clean. Whatever's gone on in the past doesn't matter to me.' And that's the way I am with all of our players," Jackson said. "None of that matters. It's the picture you paint now, and he's doing a tremendous job. He's very talented, as we all know. He's done everything right thus far, and I'm very proud of him."

Gilbert took first-team reps in OTAs with Joe Haden recovering from offseason ankle surgery, saying Thursday, "I want to try to continue to get those reps even when he comes back."

Turning Gilbert into a reliable member of the Browns would equal a magic act for Jackson and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The former Oklahoma State star currently looms as one of the biggest draft disappointments for a team that has endured plenty of them.

Gilbert turning the corner can't come soon enough. The Browns are in desperate need of reliable cornerback play behind Haden -- something Cleveland thought it addressed when it traded up to draft Gilbert in the first place.

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