The logo on his shirt is that of a Cleveland Browns dog with a barbell in it’s bared teeth trying to chew through it. Underneath are the words Cleveland Browns Strength.
This image stands in sharp contrast to the smiling man wearing it. Garrett Gilkey is upbeat, polite and doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body. He is in a fight, however. A fight for a starting spot on the Browns offensive line.
During the first four days of training camp, the first unit offensive line has been Joe Thomas (drafted 3rd overall), Alex Mack (21st overall), Mitchell Schwartz (37th overall), rookie Joel Bitonio (35th overall) and Gilkey who was selected in the seventh round, 227th overall.
With guard John Greco on the non-football injury list, and Jason Pinkston not participating in practice (for reasons the club and player aren’t willing to discuss), Gilkey has stepped into the starting right guard spot. He may be viewed as the longshot to keep the spot, but don’t tell that to Garrett, who has every intention of holding onto the job.
“With my mentality, I’m going in there thinking I am the starter,” Gilkey told WFNY. “A lot of people assume that I’m falling into it, the reality is I have the confidence, I have the mentality that I’m going in there and I’m going to be the starter. Now it’s just a matter of following through with that.
“The way I see it,” Gilkey continued, “It’s my job to lose. I’m going to be relentless and unwilling to give that up.”
Gilkey is no stranger to being thrown in the fire on the offensive line. With injuries suffered by Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao last season, Garrett found himself thrown into the starting mix in the second preseason game against Detroit’s excellent defensive line. The seventh-round rookie played in six games in 2013, starting the finale against the Steelers. It was more action than many offensive linemen drafted well ahead of him saw in 2013. Probably more than the Division II Chadron State alumnus expected to see.
Now in his second training camp, the fact that he came from a small school no longer matters. His draft position no longer matters. Can he do the job or not?
“It’s something I’m very comfortable with, and I’ve been very successful with,” Gilkey said with a smile. “That’s probably my biggest strength is moving laterally and those techniques. It hasn’t been a tough transition for me.”
If the Browns are going to be successful on offense this season, the offensive line will have to be a big reason why. The running back depth chart has been drastically improved. The team spent a high draft pick on rookie Joel Bitonio to help solidify the line. Alex Mack was brought back at high cost. Gilkey could be the last piece to the puzzle.
Thomas, Mack and Schwartz all have never missed a snap in their careers. Thomas and Mack are Pro-Bowlers. You couldn’t ask for much more in role models at your position.
“What I’ve learned most from those guys is their demeanor. How focused they are. They set themselves aside differently than your average NFL player. They are very consistent and very focused and very task oriented.”
It is that kind of singular focus that Gilkey is working on. It is why he thinks of himself as a starter already, to prepare himself for the opportunities that are in front of him.
I couldn’t speak to Garrett without asking him about his use of social media. He is a great follow on twitter (@gagilk73) and Instagram (gagilk65). Unlike the majority of the Browns offensive linemen, Gilkey often interacts with fans through his social media outlets. “A lot of guys don’t like to interact, even guys that are active on social media,” said Gilkey. “For me, my outlets on social media are always going to be associated with humor. I try to let my sarcasm and my sense of humor filter out on my twitter feed and my instagram and facebook accounts. I enjoy it. I enjoy the witty and humorous tweets that come at me. I like to interact with the fans. For me it’s fun.”