Football / Sports

Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine (left) stands with first round draft choices Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, and GM Ray Farmer during their first news conference with the local media at the team's headquarters on Friday, May 9, 2014, in Berea, Ohio. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine add Justin Gilbert to defense, say he 'plays like a Brown'

BEREA, Ohio -- Even though he was drafted first, former Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert knows he won't be in the spotlight as much as the "other" first-round pick for the Browns.

The Browns selected Gilbert No. 8 overall Thursday night and later picked former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the No. 22 pick.

Even Gilbert couldn't contain his excitement that the team he had been a part of for only about two hours was making such headlines.

"I was on my way back to the hotel and I think my mom or somebody told me that we had Johnny Manziel, so I let down the (car) window and started screaming, 'Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Browns, we're here,"' Gilbert said in a news conference Friday.

The hoopla will go to Manziel. But Gilbert was the first draft pick in the Ray Farmer-Mike Pettine era. Both Farmer and Pettine �" each with a defensive background �" saw in Gilbert someone who "plays like a Brown," and a cornerback to pair with Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden.

"It's really a list of attributes when we put that out there," Pettine said. "It's passion, competitiveness, tough, mentally tough, physically tough, accountable. Bundled up in that, it's a list of intangibles. ... It's a definition for us moving forward."

Gilbert joins linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Donte Whitner and others as the first round of pieces to forming the Browns' new defensive identity. It's a clear tip of the cap to the new-age NFL, in which teams throw first, throw second and talk about running the ball later.

Gilbert joining Haden has the potential to form the league's best cornerback-tandem. Add in Whitner and Dansby, an above-average linebacker in pass coverage, and the Browns are making an obvious move toward the vertical game, which played a key role in the Seattle Sea�hawks' Super Bowl run last season.

Gilbert, who played quarterback in high school, is known for four main attributes: size (6 feet, 202 pounds, which is bigger than Haden), toughness at the line of scrimmage, the ability to make plays on the ball in the air and the ability to return kicks.

"He's long. He's fast. He's explosive," Farmer said Thursday night. "He's got great arm length. He's got the speed. He's got the ball skills. ... He's going to play relentless. He's going to play at the line of scrimmage and press people."

Gilbert's selection could move the smaller, quicker Buster Skrine into the nickel cornerback role. Gilbert's good size for the position allows him to knock receivers off their routes and disrupt timing with quarterbacks.

"He (Pettine) told me there's going to be a lot of man (defense) and they're looking for a guy who can play press man and run with receivers down field and make plays on the ball," Gilbert said. "So, I think I'm a perfect fit here."

Pettine has made it known that he has concerns with starting rookie cornerbacks. But in Gilbert's case, he might be more open to giving the rookie an opportunity to play Week 1.

"I think they can be if you handle it right," Pettine said when asked if a cornerback can make an immediately impact. "That's why it's nice to have Joe on the other side to help Justin out some, but we're very confident in his ability and I've seen rookies that have been able to come in (and make an impact)."

The knock against Gilbert has been his tackling ability. The Browns, though, were focused on his mental makeup and coverage skills. Pettine said the Browns won't be putting Gilbert in a prime tackling position very often.

"In our system, we are not (using) a lot of hard corner very often, where the corner is primary in run support," Pettine said. "Our premium, when we look at and list the attributes and say, 'Here's what we're looking for in a corner,' the press-man coverage ability, the ability to eliminate a wide receiver and allow us to play 10 against 10 and do that with two guys and play nine against nine."

The Browns will face quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco twice a year. With Haden and Gilbert together, they're building up the ammunition to slow them down.

(c)2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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