It is easy to forget that, at one point, cornerback Mark Gilbert was one of the top players at this position in college football.
A season-ending left hip procedure that shelved him for almost two years derailed him from reaching his true potential at the collegiate level. Despite a subpar senior year with Duke and going undrafted, Gilbert has been one of the top performers at this year Steelers training camp.
Whether he was making plays against the Dallas Cowboys during this year's Hall of Fame Game, or getting a little more physical than usual against teammates during team drills, few free agent rookies have made the type of impression Gilbert has this offseason.
What defined Gilbert so far has been his ball skills and, in extension, his ability to make timely plays. In the Hall of Fame Game, he led the defensive with two passes defended while allowing on one reception on three targets. During a training camp session on August 9th, Gilbert accounted for a pass breakup on tight end Eric Ebron to help his defense win the 'seven shots' drill. With each camp session, Gilbert's maturation is in full view, as he continues to grow in confidence.
Perhaps at one point, Gilbert had envisioned being drafted. Considering he was once an All-American and All-conference player, he was trending in that direction. Though he never realized this dream, he has shown so far that he belongs in the NFL, and the opportunity to play against top-level competition.
As training camp winds down, Gilbert has produced an impressive enough body of work to create a strong case for a spot on the Steelers active roster. With third-year cornerback Justin Layne's camp struggles well-documented, his presence could prove valuable as his level of play remains high.
The remaining preseason games could ultimately determine his future on the roster. Whatever the result may be, Gilbert has proven to be greater form of what he once was.