Is Mike Pettine to Blame For Browns Rookies Struggling in 2014?

By Vincent Frank

Back in May, it really did look like the Cleveland Browns worked wonders with their 2014 NFL draft class. They nabbed one of the top defensive backs in the draft in Justin Gilbert before selecting former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel to be their franchise quarterback later on Day 1.

Heck, Cleveland even picked up a 2015 first-round pick from the Buffalo Bills by trading out of the top five and selecting Gilbert at No. 8.

Unfortunately for the Browns, Gilbert and Manziel look like two of the biggest busts of the rookie class as the season draws to a close.

And both have had work ethic questions thrown their way.

We already know the story behind Manziel, so there really isn’t much of a reason to get into that. However, new concerns seem to be surrounding Gilbert.

Veteran safety Donte Whitner, in his first season with the Browns, indicated that Gilbert needed to stop acting the part of a kid. 

It’s time to grow up and not be a kid anymore. It’s a wasted year for him,” Whitner said. “There were so many ups, so many downs — a lot of it has been brought on by himself. He has to look himself in the mirror.”

Responding to this criticism, Gilbert had the following to say. 

I’m not mad at anyone about it,” the rookie defensive back said on Friday. “I brought it upon myself. I can take that and roll with it. I messed up. But I can promise my teammates I’m going to make it right.”

We aren’t too sure if there’s something specific that Whitner and fellow teammates are looking at, but one thing is for sure. Gilbert’s on-field play has been absolutely atrocious this season. He’s been one of the worst regular cornerbacks in the NFL, allowing a completion percentage of over 65 and a quarterback rating in the triple digits.

As it relates to Manziel, he started two games before being injured in a Week 16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. And although the sample size has been small, the Texas A&M product has failed to impress. There has obviously been questions surrounding Manziel’s work ethic, and he has vowed to take football itself more seriously.

So the question now becomes whether these two rookies lacked leadership either in the locker room or from a coaching standpoint? It’s rather obvious that neither were prepared to play at the highest level that football has to offer, which could be seen as an indictment on head coach Mike Pettine and his coaching staff.

A season that started with muted expectations turned into a season in which the Browns had playoff aspirations heading into December. But following a four-game losing streak that has seen Cleveland tally a total of 47 points, it’s starting to look like 2014 has been a lost year for the Browns franchise.

Magnifying this even further is the fact that neither Manziel or Gilbert really progressed as the season went grew on. For Manziel, the season ended shortly after it started. And as it relates to Gilbert, he’s been in and out of the regular lineup due to poor play.

Part of the job of a head coach is to prepare his youngsters for live in-game action during the regular season. And to be brutally honest, it looks like Pettine failed at every turn as in that regard.

Photo: Fox Sports