"I wish it hadn't happened that way," Gilbert said of the season finale. "But I think it really helped me."
Gilbert struggled throughout his rookie season, which he said humbled him and has led to a better work ethic. He added that he intends to let his actions speak for his improved maturity.
"That's the best I can do," he said. "Prove it every day."
"I would expect him to make a jump in year 2," O'Neil said, per Ohio.com. "I do see a new focus in him. I'm optimistic."
Gilbert had 28 tackles, one interception and eight pass defenses as a rookie.
“I know he's working hard,” O’Neil said. “I'm looking forward to getting him back and see where he's at two weeks from now. I'm very optimistic for Justin in Year 2.”
Head coach Mike Pettine spoke about how Gilbert has been working out with teammate Joe Haden this offseason.
“We’ve gotten very positive feedback on how his offseason is going,” coach Mike Pettine said at last month’s owners meetings. “And like every other player, we are very much looking forward to getting him in town in April and we’ll see the progress that he’s made. I thought it was great of him to go seek out Joe. I know Joe works hard in the offseason down in Miami. It was good to see it.”
Gilbert, the eighth overall draft pick last season, finished his rookie year with 29 total tackles and one interception.
"He is growing up," Haden said, per the team's official website. "Justin's a very, very talented player. It's just going to take a little bit of time."
Gilbert, who was the eighth overall pick in last year's draft, was benched during the season in favor of fourth-round selection Pierre Desir and undrafted rookie K'Waun Williams.Despite his struggles, coach Mike Pettine believes in Gilbert's ability at cornerback.
"We've definitely seen flashes of his ability, and we've seen it in games as well," Pettine said in December. "I could make a 20-play cut-up of him where he'd look like one of the elite corners in the league, and I could make another 20-play cut-up where you wouldn't take him until Day 3 of the draft. In this league, it's all about being consistent."
As a rookie, Gilbert started two games. He totaled 29 tackles and one interception -- a pick-six of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
His maturity was a concern throughout his rookie campaign, with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam saying Gilbert needed to "grow up" recently. However, coach Mike Pettine was a little more forgiving to Gilbert when speaking to reporters at the NFL combine on Wednesday.
"It's more than that," Pettine said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I don't want to get into it. It's very personal and I'm not going to get into details about it."
Gilbert was suspended for Cleveland's season-finale due to tardiness. His on-field performance didn't help as he did not seem ready for early playing time. He finished the year with 29 tackles and one interception.
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