Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert’s quest to overtake Buster Skrine and win a starting job will begin on time.
Gilbert, Cleveland’s first pick in the draft, signed a four-year contract Wednesday. Spotrac.com reported the deal’s worth $12.83 million, including a $7.65 million signing bonus.
Browns rookies reported to training camp Wednesday, and full-squad practice opens Saturday. Gilbert was the league’s second-last rookie to sign, leaving only Tennessee offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, the No. 11 pick.
Browns coach Mike Pettine is glad the No. 8 pick will be in the fold from the start.
“It’s important,” he said in an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram. “The flip side of it is it’s a bad message to the teammates.”
Pettine wanted a top-notch cornerback from the draft to pair with Pro Bowler Joe Haden, and first-year general manager Ray Farmer delivered Gilbert (6-foot, 202 pounds) from Oklahoma State. Gilbert totaled 182 tackles, 27 passes defensed, 12 interceptions and two touchdowns on interception returns.
The Browns began the draft with the fourth pick, but sent it to Buffalo for No. 9 and first- and fourth-rounders in 2015. They traded a fifth-rounder this year (No. 145 overall) to Minnesota to move up one spot and assure themselves of Gilbert.
Many outsiders expect Gilbert to be given a starting job before the season opener Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh. Pettine put up a caution sign.
He liked how Gilbert performed in the offseason but said he’ll enter camp behind Skrine, who’s in his fourth season and started 15 games last year. Pettine provided the map for Gilbert to move into the starting lineup across from Haden.
“Master the system, master his techniques and go out and play,” he said. “I’m not so sure that even once we get going that we’re not going to job-share a little bit. When you have an elite corner like Joe the corner that’s opposite him better make sure he’s well-hydrated. So we don’t want to put him in a situation where all of a sudden he’s seeing more activity than maybe even a normal rookie would and now all of a sudden you lose … confidence is so important out there.
“It’s a process and we wanted to make sure we didn’t jump steps ahead. That’s where our depth helps us.”
Pettine is comfortable with free-agent pickup Isaiah Trufant in the slot in the nickel, which allows Skrine to stay outside if Gilbert’s not ready.
“For now, that’s his job outside and Justin’s got to beat him out,” Pettine said.
- The Browns placed rookie running back Terrance West, linebacker Tank Carder, defensive lineman Billy Winn, tackle Chris Faulk, defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel and guard Jeremiah Warren on the non-football injury list. A league source said, with the exception of Carder, the reason for the designation was related to the conditioning test. The players can be moved to the active roster at any time, and the source said they are expected to be cleared shortly. West tweeted that he passed his physical, is healthy and ready to go.
- The Browns claimed rookie tackle Abasi Salimu (6-5, 310) off waivers from St. Louis. He was signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent May 12. He started 22 games at Nicholls State.
- Linebacker Brandon Magee, receiver Conner Vernon and defensive back Royce Adams were waived.
- Pettine said receiver Charles Johnson has been cleared by the medical staff and is expected to practice Saturday for the first time as a Brown. He was signed off the Packers’ practice squad last season but arrived with a torn anterior cruciate ligament that required surgery.
- Interior offensive lineman Nick McDonald, who was claimed off waivers Tuesday, is recovering from a broken wrist that will require four-to-six weeks to heal, ESPN’s Adam Caplan reported, citing a source. Caplan said the Browns knew about the injury.
The Browns announced all the tickets have been issued for the first three training camp practices – Saturday, Sunday and Monday — along with Family Day on Aug. 2 at University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium. That leaves 10 practices with availability, and fans can register for free tickets at ClevelandBrowns.com. President Alec Scheiner said capacity at Browns headquarters is 4,000.
He also said gates will open at 8:30 a.m. for the 9:30 practices, and “we’re going to roll out a zip line this year for a few of the practices. It will not be over the field.”
Pettine is intrigued by the idea of moving camp away from team headquarters in the future, and Scheiner said all possibilities will be explored.
“Depending on what type of feedback we get and what we learn, we could go as soon as next year or we could stay here for however long we want,” he said on a conference call with reporters.
Scheiner said the Browns will have new uniforms for the 2015 season.
“It is a long, involved process and there are various steps,” he said. “You work with the NFL. You work with Nike. Then as we start making progress, you also want to make sure the uniforms look good on TV or look good from distances, and that’s part of the process we’re in now.
“We have to be ready, including having jerseys and T-shirts and things like that that are made, before next year’s draft. So all of the process kind of works toward that moment.”
Scheiner said the first phase of the renovation of FirstEnergy Stadium is on schedule to be completed for the first preseason home game Aug. 23 against the Rams.