BEREA (AP) — Josh Gordon arrived at training camp out of shape, unfamiliar with the Browns’ playbook and saddled with personal baggage from a troubled college career.
Another lost rookie, Gordon was way behind.
He’s caught up.
“He’s our top receiver right now,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said.
With a long, elegant stride and deceiving speed, the 21-year-old Gordon has emerged as Cleveland’s biggest deep threat, perhaps the club’s best playmaker and maybe the end of the Browns’ search for a bonafide No. 1 wide receiver, something they haven’t had in years.
Gordon, blessed with enormous talent, is the whole package.
“He’s big and he’s fast and he can catch,” said Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
Gordon had the best game of his brief career last Sunday, catching six passes for 116 yards and one touchdown as the Browns ended a 12-game road losing streak with a 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders. It was a breakout performance for Gordon, who was taken in the second round of the NFL’s supplemental draft in July by the Browns, who were criticized for a selection many considered too risky.
Gordon, though, has made general manager Tom Heckert’s gamble pay off.
The Browns haven’t had a receiver with comparable, game-breaking skills to Gordon since Braylon Edwards, who had 16 TD receptions in 2007 but then tailed off quickly and was eventually traded. Gordon has five TDs this season, the most by a Browns rookie since Andre’ Davis in 2002.
And he’s hungry for more.
“He’s starting to get a feel for what he can do,” Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “The sky is the limit for that guy. He’s talented, he’s tall, he’s long, he’s fast. He can catch the ball well. He does all the things you would want.
“I’m glad he’s on our side.”
While Gordon was the subject of many conversations inside the Browns’ facility and locker room this week, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder kept a low profile. That’s how it’s been since he was drafted by Cleveland, which forfeited a second-round pick in 2013 to get him.
Gordon is quiet, polite and refreshingly unassuming.
“It’s just me being me,” he said.
He came with questions surrounding his character. Gordon was dismissed from Baylor’s team after being suspended twice for marijuana use, and then he didn’t play after transferring to Utah, where he failed another drug test. He hasn’t had any problems as a pro, and that’s how Gordon intends to keep it.
Gordon knows there are some who expect him to fail. He uses that as motivation.
“There’s a lot more eyes on me compared to other guys,” he said. “A lot of people either expect a downfall or expect another type of mess-up or are waiting for a slipup. I came in trying to be mature about it, and that’s how I approach it every day. I watch the guys ahead of me, the veteran guys and see how they carry themselves and how I should do the same.”
Gordon has leaned on Jackson, tight end Ben Watson and wide receiver Josh Cribbs for advice and guidance. They’ve explained to him the importance of working hard, using his free time wisely and striving to be consistent — on and off the field.
Gordon is following their lead. He’s growing up.
There have been no missteps, just positive strides forward.
“He’s young,” Cribbs said. “He has an opportunity to right the ship. Nobody cares about how you fall down, it’s about how you get back up. He’s done a great job of bouncing back from anything that might have happened in his past and you don’t see it in his future and that’s a great thing.
“He’s still a kid.”
Gordon’s ability to get deep is transforming the Browns’ offense. With his ability to run past a cornerback, defenses must keep a safety back to protect against a long completion. By drawing two defenders, underneath passing routes open as do running lanes.
Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress has noticed defenses paying more attention to Gordon, who is averaging 19 yards per catch and 46 yards on his TD grabs.
“You kind of want to know where that guy’s at,” Childress said.
Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown saw Gordon’s potential immediately. Early in training camp, Brown, an 11-year veteran who knows every trick in the book, was covering Gordon and thought he had the youngster bottled up.
“I had perfect coverage and he stuck one hand out and catches the ball,” Brown said. “He’ll make a few plays in this league. The sky is the limit for him. He’s still learning, but he’s a talent. I just want to see him continue to grow and continue to gain confidence because he can be very special.”
Brown isn’t alone in his appraisal.
While other teams passed on Gordon, the Browns dared to look deeper and took a chance on him.
He doesn’t want to let them down.
“It meant a lot to me,” he said. “I never will forget it and I’m always grateful for it. I think about it every day and it’s why I have the attitude I have. I don’t want to take anything for granted and keep going as hard as I can. I never want to feel complacent or content in any aspect of the game.
“As soon as you do that, that’s when something will go wrong.”
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