By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Tashaun Gipson entered the NFL last year as an undrafted rookie from the University of Wyoming who had never played safety. Fifteen months later, he is the starting free safety for the Browns.
Coach Rob Chudzinski formally named Gipson the starter Wednesday morning during a news conference.
“It was definitely a grind, a battle coming into camp,” Gipson said. “This is what I set my goals for and I’m just blessed that coach Chud and the coaching staff gave me that title and instilled that trust in me.
“My mindset is not going to change just ‘cause I am the starter. It doesn’t mean I’m going to relax on my craft. I’m going to continue to try to get better each day. I’m going to continue to grind out there like I’m competing for my job.”
Gipson’s teammates weren’t surprised he seized the opportunity.
“I had no doubt the whole training camp,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “None of us really did because Tashaun, he’s really, really comfortable at the position. He knows all the checks. He knows all the calls.
“He makes all the plays. He’s really, really athletic, and I think that that was a really good move. We’ve trusted Gip the whole time since OTAs started [in May].”
Gipson and most of the other starters are expected to play the entire first half and one series in the third quarter Saturday night, when the Browns visit the Indianapolis Colts in the third preseason game, Chudzinski said.
Strong safety T.J. Ward sat out the first two exhibition games with a sore hamstring, but he and Gipson could tune up as a tandem against the Colts.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing that,” Chudzinski said. “T.J. had a good day of practice yesterday. We’ve been cautious with it, but he’s looking full speed and everything seems to be a go. So we’ll determine that later in the week, but I am looking forward to seeing those two guys working together.”
Gipson missed part of training camp with a sprained shoulder. Still, he held off challengers Johnson Bademosi, a converted cornerback, and rookie Jamoris Slaughter, a sixth-round pick, to secure the top spot on the depth chart.
“I didn’t know who we were going to draft,” said Gipson, who played cornerback in college. “But I expected that I was going to have to be in a dogfight whether they brought somebody in as a free agent or guys like Johnson Bademosi [were] going to be competing [against] me.”
New defensive coordinator Ray Horton has called free safety a position of “concern.” Gipson is motivated to evolve into a reliable, ball-hawking defender like the free safeties he tries to emulate, Ed Reed of the Houston Texans and Dashon Goldson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Since I’ve been here, since May of 2012, I’ve been having to prove myself to the coaches, the organization, people like that,” Gipson said. “But that’s nothing new, and I’m definitely excited for this challenge. I definitely want coach Horton to be 100 percent secure in my ability on the back end, and he can definitely have confidence in my ability.”
Gipson started three of the 10 games in which he appeared as a rookie, compiling 29 tackles and an interception. He missed five games with a sprained MCL in his knee and another with a sprained foot.
Despite suffering a shoulder injury this summer, he insisted he’s ready to take the next step in his young career.
“I’m definitely fine,” Gipson said. “My body is fine. Besides the rigors of training camp, I feel like my body is able to hold up to anything that’s going to be thrown at me this preseason heading into the regular season.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.