Cleveland Browns: Will Justin Gilbert make the final roster?

Nov 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert (21) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert (21) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Cleveland Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert is finding himself in a competition for a roster spot this preseason. Will he earn one?

Like every NFL team at this stage of the preseason, the Cleveland Browns have a multitude of decisions to make regarding their final roster. While many players compete for a roster spot, only 53 will remain members of the team once the season begins.

The secondary is one area of the roster where a roster spot may be up for grabs for several players. 2014 first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert is a notable figure in the mix. But his recent struggles and the surprises of some of the other defenders causes Gilbert’s security on this team to be in doubt.

While Gilbert currently sits directly behind starter Joe Haden at one of Cleveland’s cornerback spots on the most recently released depth chart, players around and behind him are giving the former Oklahoma State Cowboy a run for his money.

For example, Trey Caldwell, Jamar Taylor and Charles Gaines have all opened the eyes of the defensive coaches. Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton appreciates hustle and effort, which is what these players have exhibited. Even though Gilbert may be the more talented option, whether he puts enough work in to be a Brown is still a question worth raising.

Also, if first year head coach Hue Jackson and his new coaching staff has made anything clear this training camp, it is that they are truly going to evaluate each individual player separate from outside factors that don’t have to do with making the team better. In other words, they won’t keep Gilbert just because he was a first-round draft pick, or just because of his contract. Gilbert, like every other player in the facility, will need to earn his way onto the roster.

Still, Gilbert’s improvement has been evident. Unfortunately for the Browns though, the former first-round draft pick has not been near what everyone in the organization anticipated. Several factors have possibly contributed to the lack of success Gilbert has had since joining the team two years ago, including his size, his work ethic and attitude and merely the fact he is still a young player.

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Though Jackson insists that Gilbert has improved steadily since the conclusion of 2015, the results have yet to be evident in the first two preseason games.

Above all, whether Gilbert makes the final roster or not is not solely dependent on his progression over the next two weeks. The coaching staff would certainly like to include Gilbert in this young secondary and develop his wide-ranging skills, but they can only keep 53 players, and must keep the 53 who will give them the best chance to win.

Much depends on the K’Waun Williams situation, and if he returns to the team, another window of opportunity for Gilbert will be closed. It may also come down to other positions, and how many of each the coaching staff keeps. Some position groups for Gilbert to watch closely are the wide receivers and tight ends, as it is undetermined how many of the young players will be kept.

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Most of all though, as is the case with every player on this roster, Gilbert’s future in Cleveland may rest on his special teams play. The Browns are in need of a stable kick returner, a role which Gilbert has tried to fill in the past. If he can make an impression in his limited opportunities, Gilbert will find himself on the team. If he doesn’t, it will be close, and to many fans’ surprise, Gilbert may be released.