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Old friends Gilbert, Mayfield hope to remain teammates

By SCOTT PATSKO • Aug 7, 2019 at 8:30 PM

BEREA — According to Freddie Kitchens, a common sound at the Browns’ training facility is Baker Mayfield and Garrett Gilbert comparing resumes. Kitchens calls it arguing.

Gilbert calls it friendly banter.

Whatever the case, it goes something like this.

Gilbert explains how he was a five-star quarterback recruit coming out of Lake Travis High School. And that Mayfield, also a former Lake Travis quarterback, was a couple stars shy of that.

Or Gilbert explains that he was the third-ranked quarterback in the country as a high school senior. And that Mayfield, well, he wasn’t. (He was 79th, according to scouting service 247Sports. Brogan Roback was 72nd).

Then, of course, Mayfield ends the argument any number of ways.

“Yeah, he got everything in college,” Gilbert said. “And after that.”

Gilbert might not be able to win those arguments with Mayfield, but he might win something more important: a roster spot with the Browns. Originally a sixth-round pick of the Rams out of SMU in 2014, Gilbert had been with five NFL teams — and one in the Alliance of American Football — by the time the Browns signed him in April. Those stops included five practice squads and an appearance in one NFL game.

Gilbert has been the third-team quarterback in training camp. That might be a good place for him to be. Especially after Kitchens told horror stories Tuesday about carrying only two quarterbacks during his time in Arizona when injuries hit.

Ultimately, a roster spot for Gilbert will be determined by how he performs in preseason games, the first of which is Thursday against the Redskins at FirstEnergy Stadium.

“Obviously, preseason football is very important for guys like me,” Gilbert said. “It is just another day, another chance to go out and improve and play the game. Tonight will be a lot of fun getting out there and seeing some live bullets.”

Gilbert just wants to play. It’s something he hasn’t done regularly in a long time.

The Pride of Lake Travis High before Mayfield, Gilbert led the Cavaliers to a state title in his final two seasons (Mayfield won one, another point Gilbert can argue). When things didn’t work out for Gilbert at Texas – where he began as Colt McCoy’s backup — he transferred to SMU and played well enough to be included in the same Rams draft class as Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald.

That started Gilbert’s journey through the maze of practice squads and waiver wires. Four years later, the Rams, Patriots, Lions, Raiders and Panthers had all signed and released him. The Panthers, desperate due to injuries, re-signed him the day after Christmas last season. That led to his only NFL regular-season action: 13 snaps as an injury replacement in the fourth quarter of a 33-14 Week 17 win against the Saints.

Gilbert was 2-of-3 for 40 yards and was sacked once.

“They actually let me throw the ball around a little bit, which was pretty exciting,” Gilbert said. “It was a cool experience for me because, you know, I think that’s what a lot of guys dream, just to get to play in a game. And, you know, it’s been sort of a long journey. So to finally get that chance … it was obviously not under the best circumstances, but I enjoyed it.”

Even before the Panthers brought him back, Gilbert had decided on a new path. He was going to play for Steve Spurrier and the Orlando Apollos in the debut season of the AAF. Gilbert wasn’t sure what he was getting into, but he saw an opportunity.

“I felt I could still play. I felt confident in myself. I just wanted to maybe take a different path to get there than I had the past five years,” Gilbert said. “I’d gone through the training camps and done all that.”

Gilbert saw an opportunity to put what he could do on tape, and not have it be from practice, or the fourth quarter of a preseason game.

The Apollos gave him that. Alongside current Browns Ishmael Hyman and D’Ernest Johnson, Gilbert led the Apollos to a 5-0 record and a league-best 2,152 passing yards. Although, his most memorable moment might’ve been catching a touchdown pass to cap off the “Orlando Special.”

Then, in early April, Gilbert and the Apollos were having a walk-through when Spurrier stopped practice and told the players the bad news. The AAF was pulling the plug.

Gilbert wasn’t in limbo for long. He signed with the Browns before the end of the week. That reunited him with another Lake Travis legend, one of his brother’s best friends, a guy who grew up around his house, swam in his family’s pool and always tried to compete with Gilbert and the other older guys.

“I have always looked up to Garrett, so now it is so surreal to have him on the same team,” Mayfield said.

On Monday, as Gilbert spoke with local media after practice, Mayfield walked by and yelled, “Go Cavs!”

“It’s great that there’s a familiar face in the (quarterback) room,” Gilbert said. “Being able to come back and be in the same room with him on a daily basis was certainly enticing.”

What Gilbert lacks in NFL game experience, he makes up for in quarterback room experience. His career has put him in rooms with Sam Bradford, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton. But he said he might’ve learned more from veterans like Derek Anderson, Sean Hill and Dan Orlovsky.

“Some of those guys I’ve gotten to spend some time around, I’ve really been able to pick up a lot just from how they approach the game and how they see things,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert’s experience with multiple offenses has been valuable for Mayfield, just as Drew Stanton’s experience with Kitchens’ offensive background has been valuable.

“Just different things, different pointers and they are able to see things that, me in Year 2, it is a new thing for me,” Mayfield said. “It is very beneficial to be able to actually just listen to them and not take it as criticism but just seeing that I do not have the experience that they have.”

Ask Kitchens about Gilbert’s camp performance, and you’ll keep getting the same answer: “I like Garrett and what he’s done up to this point.” Like everyone else, he needs to keep stringing together good days.

“It is a day-to-day process. I feel like I am definitely making some strides and there are a lot of areas that some things come up and it is just all about not making the same mistake twice for me,” Gilbert said. “That is sort of where I am at right now and trying to stay comfortable within the offense, feel everything out and again and not make the same mistake twice. Every day is just a learning process, and every day I am just trying to improve and be the best player I can be for this team.”

If he’s lucky, maybe win an argument or two with the starting quarterback.

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