AFC North: Justin Gilbert

Browns vs. Steelers preview

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
Johnny Manziel and Ryan Shazier USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesAll eyes will be on these rookies in Week 1: Cleveland's Johnny Manziel and Pittsburgh's Ryan Shazier.
The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers renew their long-standing rivalry Sunday at Heinz Field.

And something has to give in the game in which Johnny Manziel is expected to make his NFL debut. The Browns have lost 10 consecutive games at Heinz Field, while the Steelers haven't won a season opener since 2010.

ESPN NFL Nation Browns reporter Pat McManamon and ESPN NFL Nation Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 1 p.m. ET game.

Brown: Pat, how many times have you written the surname Manziel since the Browns drafted Johnny Football in early May? Well, let's get the obligatory Manziel chatter out of the way. How do you see the Browns using Manziel on Sunday and how much do you expect him to play?

McManamon: As for the first part, Scott, let's say more than five and less than 10,000, but just barely less. I would be surprised if Manziel does not see the field for a play or a series in each half. The Browns and coach Mike Pettine have been coy about how he'll be used, but he does bring a different element than Brian Hoyer, and the Browns could put him on the field the same way the Steelers first used Kordell Stewart. Certain down-and-distance situations might be good for the read-option, or certain spots on the field might be good for a quarterback who can move. I don't think Manziel will play a lot, but I do think he'll play in the right spot, as judged by the coaching staff.

Scott, a slow start doomed the Steelers last season. How determined are they to avoid that slow start again, and how much bad luck is it for the Browns to draw the Steelers in the opener?

Brown: For the record, I am not going to start calling you Pat McFootball no matter how many times you privately lobby me to do so. Take a picture with the Biebs in it and we will talk. With that order of business out of the way, I will say the schedule-makers did not do the Browns any favors by having them open in Pittsburgh. I suspect the Steelers will publicly downplay the notion that this is a must-win game, but in reality it is. The Steelers cannot start slow again this season, and with road games against the Ravens and the Panthers looming, they have to beat the Browns. As hard as it is to win in the NFL, nothing is more served on a platter than an opponent that hasn't won in Pittsburgh in more than a decade and has an offense riddled with question marks. Did I mention Ben Roethlisberger, who has never forgiven the Browns for passing on him in the 2004 NFL draft, has lost just one time to Cleveland?

Getting back to the Browns' offense, who do the Steelers have to worry about beating them with wide receiver Josh Gordon out for the season?

McManamon: Nobody, really. The Browns will try to run the ball and use tight end Jordan Cameron creatively, but there is no real outside threat even close to the threat Gordon provided. And Cameron better get used to consistent double coverage. It's almost unfair to throw a quarterback into a game with these circumstances. Running back Ben Tate probably will be the offensive bell cow. He'll be featured prominently in the game plan. But the Steelers stop the run in their sleep. This game will be a serious challenge for the Browns' offense and offensive coaches.

Speaking of offense, how has and how will the marijuana possession charges against Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount affect the team, if at all, this weekend?

Brown: It is a footnote to this game. Not to minimize the stupidity that the Steelers' top two running backs showed -- and they are worthy of all of the unflattering nicknames that have surfaced on social media, among other places -- but the issue has presumably been dealt with from the Steelers' end. If Bell and Blount had been suspended for the season opener, we would have seen Roethlisberger throwing a ton of passes and a one-dimensional offense. But with both Bell and Blount slated to play against the Browns, the Steelers' offense will be at full strength.

I am real interested in seeing whether the Steelers try to set up the pass through the run or vice versa. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin predictably gushed about Cleveland's defense at his news conference earlier this week, and certainly that unit is the strength of the Browns. Will that defense be as good as advertised?

McManamon: Let's tap the brakes on this "good defense." Nobody knows yet. The defense has new names -- and they are good names to have -- but they might not be improved. Also, a defense that was supposed to be good a season ago made a habit of blowing late leads. The weak spot this season is the same as last -- cornerback opposite Joe Haden. First-round pick Justin Gilbert is going through significant growing pains, and Buster Skrine is coming off a thumb injury. The Browns wanted Isaiah Trufant to be the nickelback, but he's on injured reserve. Smart teams pick at weaknesses; it would be surprising if the Steelers don't pick on the second corner. The other concern, which has been an ongoing issue: Will the defense wear down because it's on the field too much due to the offense struggling?

Staying with defense, Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier is an Ohio State guy, and there's been a lot of positive press on him throughout preseason. Has he been that good?

Brown: He has, but the caveat, of course, is that Shazier has yet to play in an NFL game that counts. That changes Sunday, and most telling about the progress Shazier has made is the fact he will become the first Steelers defensive rookie to start a season opener since Kendrell Bell in 2001. There will be the inevitable growing pains as the first-round pick adjusts to the speed of the game at this level. Probably the biggest concern with Shazier is whether he will consistently be able to shed blocks since the 6-1, 237-pounder is not the biggest linebacker. The Browns' offensive line is one of their biggest strengths, so it will be a good opening test for Shazier. I think the kid is going to be a star, and I predict he will win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
PITTSBURGH -- Would the Steelers have taken a cornerback in the first round of the NFL draft had either Justin Gilbert or Kyle Fuller -- or both -- been available at No. 15?

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert isn’t saying.

“Sure, there were guys that went ahead of Ryan that were really good players,” Colbert said Monday on TribLive radio. “We were extremely excited [Shazier] was there but there were other players that we would have entertained and maybe didn’t have an opportunity to pick them. But that doesn’t diminish our excitement for Shazier.”

The Steelers really liked tight end Eric Ebron, and the North Carolina product certainly would have been prominent in the discussion that preceded the Steelers' first-round pick had he still been available.

But the Steelers were more than happy to select Shazier, who provides speed, athleticism and versatility to their defense.

The Steelers only took one cornerback in the draft but Colbert echoed comments made by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau that the position is not as lacking as has been widely perceived.

"Cortez Allen we think has a real bright future and he should only get better," Colbert said. "When you’ve got a guy like William Gay and Brice McCain and Antwon Blake and we feel nice about what they’re going to be able to contribute. Blake did a great job coming in [last season] and playing mainly on special teams because he was a late addition for us but he’s going to have a whole offseason to grow as a corner.”

Despite taking only one cornerback -- and waiting until the fifth round to select Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson -- the Steelers have generally gotten good reviews for their draft.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Steelers an A-minus for their draft. ESPN analyst Todd McShay also liked what the Steelers accomplished during the three-day draft.

"I was really impressed. I thought they had one of the better drafts of all the teams in the league," McShay said Monday during a post-draft conference call. "I really thought beginning to end that Pittsburgh did a really good job of finding players that fit their system and do multiple things.”
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

BEREA, Ohio -- A wrap-up of the Cleveland Browns draft. Click here for a full list of Browns draftees.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIThe Browns didn't just opt for Johnny Manziel but the sideshow that comes with him.
Best move: The entire manipulation of the first day. The Browns had Johnny Manziel on their board as an option at 4, but finagled their way to an extra pick that resulted in the team drafting their highest-rated cornerback (Justin Gilbert) and their highest-rated quarterback -- while gaining an extra first-round pick next year. That is a series of events that is hard to top.

Riskiest move: Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones called Manziel an atypical backup who is "a celebrity" and "Elvis Presley." The Browns brought all that goes with Manziel -- the TMZ reports, the celebrity status, the incredible attention -- to a team that might not need that kind of scrutiny. And they brought it right to Brian Hoyer, who has done everything right since he joined the Browns. If Manziel can play, it would be worth it. If not, well then the circus that affected the Jets with Tim Tebow will be repeated in Cleveland.

Most surprising move: It makes no sense at all that a deep receiver class sends no receivers to Cleveland, which in the vernacular is "really in trouble" at the position -- assuming Josh Gordon is indeed banned for a year. Ray Farmer has to have something up his sleeve, because the group the Browns would field right now is hardly scary.

File it away: Farmer's description of running back Terrance West made him sound like an intriguing player. Farmer said West has the physique of a Maurice Jones-Drew but the quick feet of a Jerome Bettis. That's an interesting combination of skills that could make West worth following once training camp arrives.

Live: Browns introduce Gilbert, Manziel

May, 9, 2014
May 9
Cleveland Browns' top pick Justin Gilbert will meet the media Friday at 2 p.m. ET at the team's facility. He'll be joined by the second first-round pick. Some guy named Manziel. ... Wait ... Johnny Football? ... Join us live here for a comment-by-comment breakdown of Johnny Manziel's introductory news conference with the Browns. We'll provide live commentary, quotes and insight as Gilbert and Manziel begin their tenure in Cleveland.

More Browns' draft coverage:
Kevin Seifert: Jimmy Haslam's homeless fan
Pat McManamon: Browns get a good player in Gilbert
Ashley Fox: Manziel will benefit from slide
McManamon: Manziel brings jolt of excitement, scrutiny
News: Ray Farmer talks about Browns' trade, Gilbert
Darren Rovell: Financial impact of Browns drafting Manziel

Darkness blanketed the evening as reporters straggled out of the Cleveland Browns' facility following the first day of the 2014 NFL draft.

Security lights dotted the building, but there was little activity at 1:35 in the morning.

Across the street from the building stood one solitary man. He wore a Trent Richardson jersey and held a sign, barely visible in the darkness. It read: "Thank you Browns." The gentleman, later identified by NFL Network as Randall Ravis, said nothing as reporters walked by. Ravis spoke for the vast majority of fans energized by the team's drafting of Johnny Manziel.

At this point the Browns might want to extend a thank you as well. From midnight until early morning, the Browns sold 1,500 season tickets.

And, according to coach Mike Pettine, Manziel still has to win a job.

The excitement over this selection will rage for some time. "Here’s Johnny" blared the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s front page. ESPN Cleveland signed off Friday by saying "this is ESPN Johnny Cleveland." came up with five events Manziel might enjoy in Cleveland (the Rib Cook-Off was first, Cleveland Auto Show third ... yes those were the events). And the ticket line phones kept ringing.

Manziel and forgotten first-round pick Justin Gilbert -- who was, after all, taken ahead of Manziel -- will meet the media today. They will take the field for the first time at a rookie minicamp next weekend. The Browns have closed the minicamp to the media, aside from the first 15 minutes of stretching. Managing the madness will become part of Pettine’s job while Brian Hoyer -- who has done so much right since he joined the Browns -- will try to fight whatever he's feeling about this body blow to his hopes to lead his hometown team.

In the short term, though, Cleveland wants to celebrate, to gush. Johnny Football will play in Cleveland.

It's a city that deserves to smile, that has earned a smile.

Even if it means being that one guy standing outside the Browns' facility at 2 in the morning.
BEREA, Ohio -- Clearly the Cleveland Browns targeted cornerback Justin Gilbert with their first pick in the draft.

They went through all sort of machinations to get him, trading down five spots and then trading up one. In the end, they gave up a fifth-round pick this year -- “It didn't cost us much,” GM Ray Farmer said -- to acquire a first-round pick and fourth-round pick from Buffalo in 2015.

Farmer said the end result was the Browns drafted the player “we thought we wanted.”

There is risk. There always is risk. In this draft, the Browns bypassed two playmakers on offense in wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans.

Watkins has been my preferred choice since January, but it's tough to argue bypassing him when the Browns acquired a first-round pick in '15 to move down just five spots. Clearly the Browns were not as high on Watkins as the Bills, who made the bold statement that Watkins makes Buffalo a playoff team.

There are teams that annually manipulate the draft to get extra players and maintain a level of talent. The Browns now have another first-round choice and they have an improved secondary, a necessity in the Mike Pettine defense. That system requires aggressive, pressing corners. In Joe Haden and Gilbert, the Browns have two like that -- assuming Gilbert is the real deal. Buster Skrine moves to nickelback to cover the slot.

“We're excited about having corners that we think can go out, play press, get after people and give us a chance to turn the ball over,” Farmer said. “We've improved our defense. We're going to do some other things to make our overall team better, but we definitely like the corner combination that we're going to have. Hopefully, we keep those guys together for a long time.”

Farmer has made a lot of logical moves this offseason in free agency. He still needs another wide receiver and a quarterback, but the second pick in the first round and the second round awaits. Clearly the Browns do not feel the depth of players at cornerback is as good as it is at receiver. The Browns took the guy they wanted.

Farmer took a risk bypassing the offensive players, but he did something logical by filling a need. It might not be the most exciting move, but it's tough to argue it.

And it will look even better when the first round of next year's draft rolls around.
Here is what general manager Ray Farmer had to say about the Cleveland Browns' moves with the fourth pick, the trade down and trade back up to get cornerback Justin Gilbert. The quotes were distributed by the team:

On the thought process for the first-round trades:

“The thought process was simple. We had an opportunity to move back, pick up some future considerations. We knew where we were in the draft and we felt like it was a good opportunity to continue to improve our team with the number of picks we could get so we made a deal to move back to Buffalo (No. 9). Second trade was another opportunity to get the player we thought we wanted. It didn’t cost us much to move back into position when he was on the board. We took that opportunity, and we took the pick with (Oklahoma State CB) Justin Gilbert.”

On DB Justin Gilbert as a player:

“Justin Gilbert the player -- He’s long. He’s fast. He’s explosive. He’s a playmaker. He plays like a Brown. Number one thing we talk about when we talk about corners is they’ve got to cover like Browns. He’s got great arm length. He’s got the speed. He’s got the ball skills. I know some people have questioned his tackling. We cover like Browns, tackling was good, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be great. We understand exactly who he is, what he is. We think he can make plays for us. He’s going to play relentless. He’s going to play at the line of scrimmage and press people. He’s able to do things we need him to do.”

On Gilbert and Browns CB Joe Haden playing together:

“Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert, (Browns S) Donte Whitner – I’m getting excited. I probably shouldn’t go there. We’re excited about having corners that we think can go out, play press, get after people and give us a chance to turn the ball over. We’ve improved our defense. We’re going to do some other things to make our overall team better, but we definitely like the corner combination that we’re going to have. Hopefully, we keep those guys together for a long time.”

BEREA, Ohio -- The pick: Cornerback Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State.

My take: It won't be the most popular pick, because the Browns gave up a chance to draft two playmakers in Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans. But it's a sound pick -- and by making two trades, the Browns wound up with the guy they clearly wanted, along with an extra first- and fourth-round pick in 2015. That's a good haul from the fourth pick, especially if the team believed Gilbert was the guy it wanted. As draft day approached, more and more murmurs started to filter out that the Browns liked Gilbert. Wednesday, ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reported he had heard from sources about a trade back and the drafting of Gilbert. Clearly, the Browns feel they need a strong press, man-to-man cover corner. Gilbert is considered one. So the Browns got two extra picks in 2015 to swap spots, traded back and still wound up with the cornerback they wanted. There is nothing to dislike about this pick -- or about the way the Browns got it done.

The deal: The Browns keep showing that things have changed in their front office. For Ray Farmer to acquire a first-round pick from Buffalo in 2015, plus swap picks this year and move down to the only ninth spot is an excellent move. In 2011, the Browns moved from the sixth pick to 26 so Atlanta could get Julio Jones. That deal netted the Browns two first-rounders, a two and a five. Farmer got the same extra first-rounder to move down just five spots. It's tough not to like that deal.

What’s next: The Browns will have another first-round pick, the 26th overall. That pick was acquired last season in the deal that sent Trent Richardson to Indianapolis.
PITTSBURGH -- Following up on a post about the 14 players I don’t think will be available when the Pittsburgh Steelers select, here are five targets who might be available to them in the first round. I do expect the Steelers to look into moving down in the first round and collecting an extra pick or two.

I ranked these five in descending order based on the likelihood that the Steelers draft them.

5. LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Three-down linebacker would make for a nice pairing with Lawrence Timmons, and he could be an immediate starter, as loathe as the Steelers are to play rookies extensively. Mosley had some injury issues in college, so the Steelers would have to be comfortable with him medically to take the 2013 consensus All-American this high. I think the Steelers wait to address this position later in the draft, but Mosley would shore up an area where they could use help if he has checked out medically.

4. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina: The best tight end in the draft has drawn comparisons to the 49ers’ Vernon Davis because of his size and athleticism and ability to stretch the field. Ebron would give Ben Roethlisberger a tall, athletic target as well as a complement -- and future successor -- to Heath Miller. The biggest question with Ebron is how much of a blocker he will develop into at the next level. The Steelers will be tempted if he is still on the board at No. 15, and they could try to trade down if Ebron is there and another team wants to move up to take him.

3. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: There is a ton to like about Gilbert, who has decent size and ran a sub 4.4 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. He intercepted seven passes last season, returning one for a touchdown, and he also excelled as a kick returner. The knock on Gilbert is that he is not the best tackler nor is he particularly strong in run support. Tackling the catch, as the Steelers call it, is essential in Dick LeBeau’s defense, which is why they might shy away from Gilbert.

2. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: The 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner has Steelers written all over him. He is tough, physical and is exactly the kind of player the Steelers need to start building around at cornerback. The biggest question about Dennard is whether he will still be available when the Steelers make their first pick tonight. A handful of teams picking ahead of the Steelers, including the Lions and Titans, could take a cornerback. If Dennard is on the board when the Steelers pick at No. 15, it might be a coin flip between him and…

1. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech: He is similar to Dennard in that he is physical and is good in run support as well as in coverage. Fuller is a little bigger and might have better ball skills than Dennard, something that might appeal to a team that has intercepted just 20 passes in the past two seasons combined. Fuller doesn’t have any flaws in his game, is a high-character guy and would be a really good fit with the Steelers.
The idea of the Cleveland Browns trading back in the draft is gaining momentum.

If they do, they’d best not do so with one specific player in mind.

That’s the advice of Bill Polian, the former builder of the Bills, Panthers and Colts, who said that a team is not wise to expect one specific player to be available if it trades down.

“I always said this as a general manager, I said it to the coach and the personnel director,” Polian said on ESPN Radio on Tuesday. “‘If we make this deal, are you prepared to lose the guy we want down below?’

“Be prepared for that. It’s going to happen about 90 percent of the time.”

Which are high odds.

And which would indicate that if the Browns really like cornerback Justin Gilbert, they need to have other options. Those presumably would include cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Jason Verrett, as well as receiver Mike Evans. If quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and/or Blake Bortles were not selected early and were available, they would also have to be in the discussion following a trade down.

Polian emphasized that preparation is essential.

“If you’re going back five spots, you need to have four guys that you’re happy with at that spot,” he said. “If you go back 10 spots, you need to have eight guys you’d be happy with.”
The endless debate about Johnny Manziel will end Thursday night.

Just in the past two days, reports from respected national reporters have said the Cleveland Browns are leaning toward Manziel if tackle Greg Robinson is already gone (he will be), and also that the Browns would not take Manziel.

Coach Mike Pettine denied that Manziel has been crossed off any list.

He told ESPN’s Sal Palantonio: “Our board is wide open. Everything is in play.”

Presumably Manziel would fall under “everything."

In some ways, General Manager Ray Farmer has people right where he wants them, and he’s smiling that he does.

He wants folks guessing at the Browns' plans, and boy are they guessing. A team that leaked so much negative and painful information about coach Rob Chudzinski during the team’s season finale has turned into the Hoover Dam, with little or no information getting out.

This much is clear: The Browns will take a quarterback high in the draft.

But Palantonio threw an interesting wrinkle into things with his report that other sources had told him the Browns were high on cornerback Justin Gilbert.

Combine this with the reality that this Browns regime is a lot more traditional in its approach, and it’s very possible the Browns could go with a player like Gilbert if the trade is right, or even an offensive tackle with the fourth spot. Robinson is one of the most intriguing players in the draft, and Jake Matthews could be a 10-year starter like his father.

But ... the question for the Browns is the same one that has been asked since the pre-draft hype started months ago: Can they afford to turn away if a quarterback is available at No. 4?

Doing so would take some serious intestinal fortitude.

It’s why I took Manziel fourth overall with the team’s first first-round pick. (Insert cracks about lack of intestinal fortitude for someone who has always favored receiver Sammy Watkins here.)

It’s difficult to find a quarterback, more difficult to pass on one. And those who do pass on a guy who turns out to be good ... well that can be a career-killing decision.

It’s a tough spot for a first-year GM to find himself.

But it’s also an exciting spot, because the right picks can do a lot for a team that needs something to go right.

Farmer wanted this job and he’s handled what has come his way adeptly to this point.

Now the draft is coming full bore right at him.

Analyzing McShay mock: Steelers 

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the 15th overall pick of the NFL draft and it seems likely they will select a cornerback or a wide receiver in the first round.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay plays general manager for every team in his latest mock draft , pairing players with teams based on what he thinks are the best fits, not how he sees the first round unfolding in two weeks.

PITTSBURGH -- Mel Kiper Jr. has the Steelers taking LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with their first pick in his latest mock draft.

But a different player stands out to the ESPN analyst as the best fit for the Steelers at No. 15 overall.

“I think the ideal pick if you’re the Steelers is Darqueze Dennard,” Kiper said of the Michigan State cornerback during a conference call on Wednesday. “He’s a Steeler. Rough, tough, aggressive football player, plays with a chip on his shoulder, very good in coverage, plays faster than he timed. Just a whale of a football player.”

So why doesn’t Kiper have the Steelers taking Dennard in his most recent mock draft? Easy. He has the Rams taking Dennard, the winner of the Jim Thorpe Award in 2013, two picks ahead of the Steelers.

Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Dennard are Kiper’s top-rated cornerbacks in the draft and his 14th- and 15th-best players overall, respectively. Gilbert has tremendous speed and has added value as a kickoff returner.

One concern Kiper has with Gilbert is whether he is a physical enough player to provide solid run support as well as get opposing receivers on the ground. Both are critical for cornerbacks in the Steelers’ defense.

“You’ve got to be able to tackle after the catch,” Kiper said. “That’s an underrated part of playing corner.”

That is also why he said Dennard would be the best pick for the Steelers if the 5-foot-11, 199-pounder is available at No. 15 and they want to address one of their most pressing needs.

“You look at that Steelers mentality, a Steelers kind of player, and I think it would be Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State,” Kiper said. “Pure football players [in the draft], he’d be on your top-10 list.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the 15th overall pick in the NFL draft after finishing 8-8 last season. A cornerback, wide receiver or defensive lineman would make sense for the Steelers.

Mel Kiper Jr.’s Grade A 2014 mock draftInsider is out on ESPN NFL Insider today, and his choice is a position that has been linked to the Steelers, though not necessarily a player they have been presumed to be targeting.

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