For two years the toughest cover Gilbert or Brown had came on the practice field. Yes, the Big 12 has plenty of high-quality receivers but Justin Blackmon was a different breed. Blackmon, a likely top-5 pick in next month’s NFL Draft and two-time Biletnikoff winner, challenged the two defensive backs in ways other receivers on the schedule couldn’t.
Now with Blackmon, as well as, seniors Josh Cooper, Hubert Anyiam and Colton Chelf gone, Gilbert thinks it’s time to return the favor.
Gilbert was just a freshman when Blackmon began testing him on the practice field and the benefits were obvious in 2011 as the sophomore began locking down on opposing wide outs. The benefits were also huge for Brown, who was tested by not only Blackmon, but also Dez Bryant leading up to his senior season in 2012.
Now Gilbert says he and Brown need to turn the tide as high-end corners in turning OSU’s new crop of wideouts into a group ready for the rigors of the Big 12.
“Being the player that (Blackmon) was, he never let that get to his head. He came out every day ready to work hard,” Gilbert said. “He always practiced hard and made this team better.”
Blackmon made the team better; he made OSU’s corners better. Now the tables have turned and that motivation and work ethic Blackmon instilled has rubbed off on Gilbert.
“I want to pick up where I left off during the season – working hard and making the most of the opportunity I had the last couple years in working with and competing against Justin Blackmon every day,” Gilbert said. “Now, the role is going to switch a little bit with me and the receivers, as far as them working with and competing against me. Really, we all just want to get better.”
And OSU’s receivers have some experience in areas but are pretty green across the board. The unexpected offseason loss of heir apparent Mike Harrison was a blow, as well.
Harrison included, OSU loses 262 receptions and 3,159 yards from its Big 12 championship season. Blackmon and Cooper accounted for 192 catches, 2,237 yards and 21 touchdowns.
On the other side, Gilbert totaled 59 tackles, five interceptions, 10 pass breakups and a fumble recovery in 2011. Brown had 68 tackles, five interceptions, 15 breakups and two fumble recoveries.
The daily battles against Gilbert and Brown will certainly help in the development of a younger group.
"We have to have some of these younger players contribute but we do have some maturity coming back. You guys are aware of Isaiah Anderson and Tracy Moore, the guys that give some experience,” coach Mike Gundy said. “I say young guy, but we also have Blake Jackson in here, who's a new player for us, but is more experienced. So between him, between Justin Horton, you have Isaiah, you have Tracy, and some of those younger players that are on our team. Torrance Carr, David Glidden, those guys, they'll need to contribute.
“Again, I mentioned this earlier, Blackmon is hard to replace. The combination of those guys need to give us enough plays very similar to what we looked for from Jeremy Smith and Joe Randle with the departure of Kendall Hunter.”
Yes, Blackmon will be hard to replace. As will Cooper, Anyiam, Harrison and Chelf, among others. But having Gilbert and Brown to assist in the process is a nice luxury.