There is no reasonable or defensible explanation for opponents to keep kicking off to Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. Yet they keep doing it, as Kansas allowed the senior to pick up his sixth-career kick-return touchdown last week to claim the Big 12 record.
"They're still kicking it to him some, and he's just running it right back," Texas head coach Mack Brown said Wednesday. "He's really good, so fast and strong."
Gilbert is now averaging 26.6 yards per return for his career, but it might only be the second-most compelling reason for NFL teams to take notice. Gilbert has four interceptions this season, tied for the conference lead, after posting five in 2011.
Conversely, Gilbert didn't have a single interception last season. Those boom-or-bust tendencies could be a major concern when Gilbert is evaluated, but Brown doesn't think it will be an issue.
"He is going to be a top pick in the NFL," Brown said.
What cannot be questioned is the physical dimension the 6-foot, 200-pound Gilbert can bring. That aspect of Gilbert's game will be critical over the next two weeks against deep-threat WRs Mike Davis (Texas) and Antwan Goodley (Baylor). Pressing them at the line of scrimmage and preventing them the opportunity to build up speed will be key.
Play-action opportunities off of the strong Longhorn and Bear ground games won't be an issue for Gilbert, who tends to be so laser-focused on the receiver he is covering that he can occasionally be a detriment in stopping the run.
If Gilbert can add an interception or two in this stretch, it could quash concerns over his ball skills. It might also be the only way Gilbert gets the ball in his hands.