BEREA — Garrett Gilkey lined up exclusively at right guard with the first-team offense in the absence of John Greco.
Greco returned to practice Thursday, but Gilkey doesn’t plan on moving out of the starting lineup.
“It’s something I’m relentless towards, and for me it’s not just about making the team, my mind’s past that,” Gilkey said Friday. “My mind’s past wanting to just be a backup. Every day I come to work with the full expectation to be the starter.”
Gilkey was a seventh-round pick out of Chadron State in 2013. He played in three games at left guard last year, including a start in the finale.
“Garrett Gilkey, from when we first got here in the offseason, when we studied the tape of last year, to where he is now, has made great strides,” line coach Andy Moeller said. “He’s shown to us in our practices he is a caliber of guy that is ready to be right in the starting mix. So he’s done well. He’s still young. By no means has he arrived, but he’s certainly taking great strides to get there.”
Moeller said Gilkey, Greco and rookie second-round pick Joel Bitonio are competing for the two guard spots, but Bitonio seems like a lock to start on the left side. That leaves Gilkey vs. Greco, who’s started 28 games in six years, including 14 last year. Greco and Gilkey both saw time with the first unit Friday.
“John Greco obviously is a guy with much more experience,” Moeller said. “He was out for a few days. Does that change the picture of the competition between those two? Absolutely not.”
Gilkey credits his surge up the depth chart to his familiarity with the zone blocking scheme brought in by new coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and work on his technique.
“This is what I ran at Chadron,” Gilkey said. “So it’s all this wide zone, overtaking and reaching techniques.
“As soon as I found out what Kyle Shanahan’s office was, I was excited because I knew I was going to be able to come in in the spring and I’d have a step ahead of everyone else. Really for me, that’s my biggest strength, being able to move laterally and overtake guys. That is one of the core, fundamental pieces of this outside zone run.”
Starting free safety Tashaun Gipson left practice with a knee injury and underwent further evaluation. Coach Mike Pettine didn’t have an update immediately after practice.
Gipson walked to the sideline, met with a trainer and pointed to the side of his left knee. Head trainer Joe Sheehan examined Gipson, who then walked into the facility on his own power.
Jordan Poyer took Gipson’s place with the starters. Jim Leonhard, a 10-year veteran signed Wednesday, would also be in the mix if Gipson were forced to miss significant time.
Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger are rotating at the two outside linebacker spots, but the coaches have personnel groupings that feature all three on the field at the same time.
“We have some things where we have some guys walking around,” Pettine said. “It’s kind of an off-the-ball linebacker, a blitzer. When you have good players you don’t want to be limited by conventional scheme.
“We can get creative and they can rush against guards or rush two ends off of one side and get a mismatch on a back, force the protection to slide that way and maybe it frees up a guy on the other side. We’ll only be limited by our own creativity with how we use those guys.”
But Pettine doesn’t want to wear them out by using that package too often.
“If you can get to the fourth quarter of a game and have fresh pass rushers, that would be to your advantage,” he said. “You see a lot of teams that play well for a while and then it comes down to a point where they drive and it just looks like they’re running in mud.”
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES
The receivers let everyone know when they reached the end zone. Each in his own way.
Anthony Armstrong threw a ball that almost flew into the second level of the VIP grandstand. Nate Burleson tucked the ball under his jersey and pretended to be pregnant. Rookie Willie Snead had a giant spike after one play, and threw the ball along the ground after another. Miles Austin flipped it over the goalpost.
“I think they were a little frustrated over time with the defensive backs,” Pettine said. “They’ve been very physical with them and they won a lot of the battles. I think that just spilled over.”
“We had to get the offense going,” Armstrong said. “The defense was getting on a roll and we had to get the offense going.”
Burleson played to the crowd during his celebration.
“Actually, it was the only catch I got,” he said. “I knew that I was going to get one-on-one coverage, I caught the ball, toe-tapped, hashtag toedragswag — look it up — but I just put the ball underneath my shirt and walked around like a pregnant lady, just because it’s my baby. In the analogy of life, I cherish this.”
Burleson and Austin would’ve been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for using the ball and goalpost as props.
IT’S THE SHOES … AND BALLS
For the second time this week Manziel took the field in neon cleats, then changed. During stretching he switched from the bright green to white.
Pettine said Monday players must wear only team-issued equipment.
Rawlings is producing 2,014 Manziel footballs to salute his rookie season and raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs in Ohio. Each football is $99, comes with a display case and features a picture and stats.
- Kicker Billy Cundiff missed three straight field goals near the end of practice. He was wide right on a ball that fluttered from 51 yards, hit the middle of the right post from 51 and was wide right from 46. He ended with a make from 46. He’s the only kicker on the roster.
- Shanahan will call the plays from the field during games, Pettine said.
- The coaches were scheduled to meet later Friday and would decide if Manziel will get any repetitions with the first team today during the Family Day scrimmage.
- Defensive lineman Phil Taylor (hamstring), linebacker LB Tank Carder (foot), linebacker Darius Eubanks (shoulder), offensive lineman Randall Harris (knee), receiver Chandler Jones (hamstring), offensive lineman Martin Wallace (shoulder) and offensive lineman Nate McDonald (wrist) didn’t practice.