Justin Gilbert’s propensity for shutting down opposing receivers made him the No. 8 overall pick in last month’s draft.
But it’s the art of returning kicks that really wets the cornerback’s whistle.
“There is nothing like taking one to the house,” Gilbert said, per the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I tell a couple of my teammates, ‘It’s like your Mama’s cooking, it’s finger lickin good.”
During Browns OTAs, the explosive Gilbert, who ran a 4.37 forty at the NFL Combine, has been lobbying hard to become the team’s specialist. And while there are other candidates for the position, he’s arguably the most qualified.
Gilbert averaged 26.3 yards per return at Oklahoma State, setting a Big-12 record with six career kickoff returns for touchdowns.
“It’s something I love doing,” Gilbert said. “I love to have the ball in my hands whether it’s returning kicks or, if I don’t get to return kicks, getting it by returning interceptions and getting touchdowns.”
Unfortunately for Gilbert, Browns coaches aren’t completely sold just yet.
“Our goal obviously is to have more than one returner,” special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “He’s a guy coming out of college that obviously was explosive and dynamic. So we’re trying to capitalize on those traits right now and we’ll see what takes place as the year goes on.
“At this time of year, you’re developing guys, but do you take those things (draft status) into consideration? You do, but at the same time, you’re going to do whatever you can to make sure the Browns win.”
Tabor is understandably apprehensive about risking the team’s first-round investment on double duty. Gilbert is likely stepping into a starting role at cornerback, forming a solid one-two punch opposite Joe Haden. If he suffered an injury while returning a kick, there would be criticism and finger-pointing coming every which way.
Unless he gets the green light from Tabor, Gilbert will just have to go hungry.
(Photo credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images)