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Gilbert making a name


The list of defensive players Jaguars linebacker coach Brian VanGorder coached at Georgia is impressive: David Pollack, Odell Thurmond, Boss Bailey, Jonathan Sullivan, Charles Grant and Thomas Davis. All of them were selected high in the NFL draft.

So who was the best?

Tony Gilbert, VanGorder said. "He was the best college player I coached. He's a smart, tough, dependable guy. I knew I was going to get what a coach wants every day."

And VanGorder is still getting it, as Gilbert attempts to carve out a place on the Jaguars' linebacking corps.

Gilbert made a major impact in last Saturday's preseason opener against the Dolphins. He made three jarring tackles and recovered a fumble, all of which raised Gilbert's stock in his pursuit of a roster spot. On a team that's not especially deep at linebacker, Gilbert looks like he'll stick.

"I'm trying to keep some momentum going; not let the coaches down," he said following Thursday morning's special teams practice.

Special teams play has kept Gilbert in this league for what would be his third season. The guy's a hitter and he was Georgia's leading tackler for three consecutive years, but he was a little short and not quite fast enough for the NFL's standards, so he lasted in the 2003 draft all the way to Arizona's pick in the sixth round.

He made his way onto the Cardinals' practice squad, from which the Jaguars signed Gilbert in the middle of the 2003 season, when new head coach Jack Del Rio was in the process of his weekly roster remodeling. All Gilbert has done since then is hit people. He runs down under kicks. He backs up Mike Peterson at middle linebacker. Whatever he's told to do, he does.

Right after last season ended, the Jaguars told him they wanted him to hone his skills in NFL Europe. It meant there would be no offseason for Gilbert; no rest for weary shoulders.

"I had a small break after the last game of the year, but they called me and let me know they wanted me to go to NFL Europe, so I started getting in shape to go to training camp in Tampa. (James Harris) said he wanted me to go over there with the intention of playing linebacker in the NFL," Gilbert said.

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said Gilbert established his ability to play linebacker by having an impressive season in Europe.

"I know I can (play linebacker)," Gilbert said. "I don't want anyone to get hurt or anything like that. I'll get my chance. I feel blessed to be in the NFL."

"He's dependable," Del Rio said of Gilbert, who will get another chance to make an impression on his coaches when the Jaguars play at Tampa this Saturday evening. "You know what you're going to get; a solid, tough, physical effort every day."

VanGorder knew as much about Gilbert from his days at Georgia.

"He's a guy who has to carry an attitude in here every day that I'm going to work hard, compete and define my role on the football team," VanGorder said.

It's what the best players do naturally.

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