Coach Mike Pettine hopes rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert learned a valuable lesson from a humbling performance Saturday night in the 33-14 loss to the Rams.
“The NFL is a tough road now for a rookie corner and the only silver lining is that he had a night like that heading into the regular season, that he sees that playing corner in the NFL is very much a ‘what have you done’ business and you’ve got to be prepared and focused every time you step on the field,” Pettine said Sunday on a conference call. “He needs to get some things cleaned up from a technique standpoint. I think there were a couple of plays where he kind of got away from things that he had been doing well and that he needs to step it up and know that every time he takes the field that he has to be 100 percent focused.”
Gilbert, the No. 8 pick, missed the preseason opener with a groin injury but started against Washington and earned good reviews. He started again Saturday with Joe Haden and Buster Skrine out with injuries. No matter who was playing quarterback for the Rams, he picked on the rookie.
Gilbert gave too much cushion and allowed a first-down completion to Brian Quick on third-and-12. He was beat on a go route by Kenny Britt and never found the ball in the air. He was beat by Chris Givens on a crossing route for a first down on third-and-19. Quick caught a 6-yard touchdown in front of him on the goal line.
If those weren’t bad enough, Gilbert allowed a 75-yard touchdown to Givens. The completion was understandable on a shallow cross, but Gilbert missed the tackle and Givens went another 70 yards.
“I should have wrapped up and tackled him instead of trying to strip him,” he said after the game. “I didn’t make plays when I needed to. That’s pretty much it.”
Gilbert will be targeted when the season starts because he’ll be on the side opposite Haden. He was asked what he learned.
“Just going into each game ready, being ready for the ball and expecting the ball at any moment,” he said. “Every time a receiver runs a route, I have to expect the ball.”
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament on a seemingly benign hit from Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant. He was just returning from a torn ACL in the same knee suffered Oct. 20.
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer tore his right ACL on Oct. 3 and has been full go since the start of training camp. Pettine was asked if players are coming back too soon from the serious injury.
“I don’t feel that way. I think the circumstances of all the cases are different,” he said. “A lot of times it comes back stronger than it was before. So I think that’s difficult to make a blanket statement on all the knee injuries.
“Certainly what happened to Sam is so unfortunate. But we feel confident with where Brian is and I think he’d be the first one to tell you that his knee feels strong.”
Hoyer admitted seeing Bradford go down rattled him.
“Yeah, it does,” Hoyer said Saturday night. “To see a guy who was in a similar situation and I haven’t had a situation like that to relate to other than practice.”
Hoyer hadn’t played in the stadium since the injury.
“It kind of hit me when I came back through this locker room, and I went and thanked the trainers for the effort they put into my rehab for getting me back,” he said. “And then to run out on the field knowing that the last time I was out there wasn’t such a good ending. So obviously we would’ve liked to play better, but I think for me it was a big step to get back out onto the field where the incident happened and just go out there and play.”
LIFE WITHOUT HIM
Pettine said not playing receiver Josh Gordon wasn’t a punishment, just preparation for the regular season. Gordon faces an indefinite suspension that would cost him the season, and the ruling on his appeal is expected any day.
“I wasn’t sending a message,” Pettine said. “The decision is looming that we’re fairly certain that we’re not going to have him for at minimum some part of the year, so we wanted to make sure we were getting repetitions with the guys that are going to be out there early.”
Pettine wasn’t happy with Gordon’s effort in the second preseason game in Washington. On Saturday, Gordon stood on the edge of the sideline with his helmet on but never played.
“He wasn’t loose,” Pettine said, referring to a lingering abdominal injury. “We just didn’t feel comfortable putting him in. It wasn’t anything from a punishment standpoint or anything like that. It was just common sense.”
Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel said he quickly put the rough night last Monday behind him. Not only did he struggle throwing the ball, he gave the finger to the Washington bench, drawing a $12,000 fine from the NFL.
He rebounded to go 10-for-15 for 85 yards and an 81.2 rating against the Rams.
“As soon as we walked off the field last week in Washington that was in the past, so I had to move forward,” he said. “The focus was on the game this week and make sure I was more decisive and really let it fly. I felt that’s what I didn’t do last week and if I had thrown the ball like I did today last week I think I would have been a little better off.”
Pettine said you could tell Manziel was more comfortable in his third preseason game.
“I just think that comes with playing,” Pettine said. “He needs to play. I think that was good work for him.”
Manziel scored on a 7-yard scramble and flashed his “money sign” to the crowd.
“The crowd was great tonight. I felt they were extremely electric,” he said. “That’s for those guys. That’s not for me, that’s for them.”
- Haden, the Pro Bowl cornerback, will miss the preseason finale Thursday against Chicago to rest a sore foot. He sat out Saturday. “It’s something that gave him a little bit of trouble so we did some further work and the recommendation was to let him go ahead and rest it the rest of the preseason,” Pettine said. “If this was the regular season, he would’ve been able to play, but we’re just going to go ahead and be very conservative with it. When we start practicing for Pittsburgh, he should be 100 percent ready to go.”
- Pettine said receiver Nate Burleson (hamstring) may return to individual drills today. His last practice was Aug. 6 and he hasn’t played in a game. “It’s tough with guys you think are going to be out there and not getting quality reps with them,” Pettine said.
- Skrine (thumb surgery) remains on track to be back for Week 1, Pettine said.
- There were no significant injuries sustained Saturday, according to Pettine.
- Pettine said running back Dion Lewis has separated himself from Chris Ogbonnaya, Edwin Baker and rookie Isaiah Crowell in the battle to be the third running back, but that the job is still open. Lewis carried three times for 8 yards, caught two passes for 10 and did a good job picking up a blitzer.
- Starting running back Ben Tate carried three times for 5 yards. Pettine said he felt comfortable with what Tate can do and wanted to get rookie third-round pick Terrance West more carries. He ran seven times for 17 yards.
- The Browns need to trim the roster to 75 players by Tuesday. They’ve yet to make their first cuts.