Pierre Desir has an incredible backstory. Born in Haiti, Desir found himself a standout athlete with a pregnant girlfriend at age 15. He didn’t back away from his responsibilities, and went to small Lindenwood University while he took care of his wife and family, including working part time jobs that included removing human feces.
Despite being handed life lesson after life lesson, the tall, lanky cornerback has had much to learn coming to the NFL after being selected by the Clevland Browns in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Following OTAs, Desir was told he needed to get to work on his technique, so he went back to training in Texas, working on his back-peddling, and cutting in and out of his breaks. He came to training camp to compete for playing time.
“In college I really didn’t have the opportunity to press, we played a lot of off man coverage,” said Desir of his college experience. “But it’s something that I’ve been working on each day, before practice and after practice.
“The competition has been what I expected. I knew that I was coming out here to compete with a great group of guys.”
That may be an understatement. Desir has always been the best at his position when he stepped on the football field. He was named the Division II top defensive player regardless of position at Lindenwood. When he steps on the field for the Browns, every corner on the roster has impressive credentials as well.
[Related: WFNY’s State of the Browns: Cornerbacks]
It starts at the top with Joe Haden. Not much needs to be said about the Pro-Bowler and leader of the secondary. His running mate last year was Buster Skrine, who was much improved in 2013. Skrine is the fastest defensive back on the roster, and one of the quickest in the league. The pair were one of only two tandems in the league that both had at least 19 passes defensed. The addition of first-round pick Justin Gilbert could mean Skrine plays more on the inside, where his quickness and agility covering slot receivers should make up for his lack of height.
The other veteran additions who quite frankly no one is talking about are free agent additions Isaiah Trufant and Aaron Berry. Trufant has been the better of the two in camp, earning at least the temporary second team spot behind Joe Haden. Both Trufant and Berry are still relatively young guys, and know that they have been given another chance with the Browns and are certainly pushing the competition. Trufant in particular is a wonderful depth player.
(Before I get to Justin Gilbert, I want to mention Jordan Poyer. Technically a safety, Poyer is a second-year player who has been all over the field at camp. He plays safety, backing up Tashaun Gipson, and also is involved in different multiple-saftety packages that the Browns have used in camp. Keep your eye on him. I think the Browns may have another surprise player in the mold of Gipson.)
That brings us to the first draft pick made by Ray Farmer this year. Justin Gilbert has been impressive. He’s tall, fast and has a little bit of cockiness that defensive backs seem to need. Secondary coach Jeff Hafley said at practice this week of Gilbert, “He’s got the tools now. If you make up a corner in a video game, that’s what you want him to look like.”
In the first week of camp Gilbert was running with the second team, with the occasional look with the ones. This past week, he’s been on the field an awful lot, including packages with Haden and Skrine. In these sets Gilbert has been forcing Skrine to the inside, which is just the ideal situation, giving the more physical Gilbert a match-up with the outside receiver and Skrine getting to utilize his speed in the open field.
Gilbert and Desir are roommates for camp and will likely be on the road as well. The two rookies are in very different stages of their development, but could eventually give the Browns real depth at the position, much like the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati has Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and rookie Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State. Last season, without the highly touted rookie, those defensive backs made the Bengals a top five defense against the pass in the entire NFL. The top defense against the pass was of course Seattle, who used a pair of tall, aggressive corners to achieve Lombardi Trophy levels of success.
You have to love what the Browns are building in the secondary. It’s a shame that Gilbert likely won’t play Saturday with a bit of a groin issue that kept him from participating in practice on Thursday. Throwing him out there against Calvin Johnson would have been fun, if even for a few plays.
(Photos: Clevelandbrowns.com, Scott Sargent/WFNY)