By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports columnist
BEREA: The Browns’ patience with second-year wide receiver Josh Gordon seems to be running thin after the league announced his two-game suspension for violation of its substance abuse policy last month.
Gordon will also be fined four game checks for what is apparently his second offense. Those cited for the first strike in the NFL’s program are not suspended.
Speaking to the media Monday, Gordon said he failed the drug test after taking prescription cough medicine that contained codeine. He said it was not a case of “recreational use.”
Selected in the second round of the 2012 supplemental draft, Gordon failed three drug tests in college, two at Baylor and one at Utah. He is expected to be the team’s deep threat after catching 50 passes for a team-high 805 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Browns CEO Joe Banner said Wednesday that new coach Rob Chudzinski has told Gordon where he stands.
“He spent a fair amount of time talking to Chud, and he’s got to do some work and he understands he’s going to be held accountable, and he gets the rope that’s left isn’t long,” Banner said of Gordon. “In working with the coaches they need to see that commitment, that work ethic. Obviously, off the field he needs to make good choices.”
Cell system upgraded
While the Browns plan no structural improvements to FirstEnergy Stadium until at least January, Banner said he expects improved cellphone service during games, a huge issue with fans in recent years.
“Your cellphones will work,” Banner said during a 23-minute news conference. “We expanded the DAS (Distributed Antenna System) system, which is really what controls cell service and to some extent iPad service. So you will have complete cell service and you will have partial use of iPads and things like that.”
In 2013, the Browns will also concentrate on issues like cleanliness and exit traffic. The bathrooms in the stadium have been repainted in team colors, more trash receptacles have been added and they will be emptied more frequently.
The Browns have hired an architect and a contractor for a reported $100 million in stadium renovations, but Banner said the decision to go ahead has not been made.
“Presuming we do the project, which is extremely likely but not absolutely definite, we will start construction in January,” Banner said. “And it will be another month or two, maybe as much as three, before we have a full idea of what the scope of it will be and what elements will be included. It probably will happen over two off-seasons.”
More extensions coming?
Guard John Greco signed a five-year contract through 2017 on Tuesday, and Banner said the Browns are trying to send a message with such agreements. Banner would not reveal who else the Browns are negotiating with, but center Alex Mack and strong safety T.J. Ward are expected to be next in line.
“Over time the way to build the team is to develop players, usually draft picks, but it can be a player you picked up like John or even an undrafted free agent, make those the core of your team and invest your money in resigning those players,” Banner said. “Hopefully there was a message that people hear and we’ll continue to do things that reinforces that and get people to trust that’s how we’re going to operate the team.”
Good sign for Weeden
Banner was happy that projected starting quarterback Brandon Weeden arrived Friday in Berea, well before the team’s training camp reporting date Wednesday. The first full-squad practice is from 4-6:30 p.m. today.
“We’re excited about the fact that he’s come in,” Banner said. “He has worked real hard and he’s done everything that they’ve asked him to do. He’s got obviously a lot more work. He’s gotten a chance to progress on the mental aspect of the position, so I think everyone is encouraged on how hard he’s working and how bad it seems he wants to do well.”
Banner said that season tickets were at 94 percent renewal rate and that the Browns’ total of new season tickets was the highest in the expansion era.
“Season-ticket holders came back, [that] is an extraordinarily high number historically here,” Banner said. “A few percentage points actually make a big difference. That’s very exciting. We’ve sold more new season tickets than has been sold in any year since 1999. For us, those are the tips of the iceberg where people are starting to feel optimistic and encouraged by what they’re seeing and wanting to be even more of a part of it than they’ve been.”
After discussion, Banner said an artificial surface at the stadium has been ruled out.
“I think most everybody here is kind of a little bit old-fashioned in believing that we can make it work on grass in spite of some of the challenging weather and late-season stuff,” Banner said. “Maybe we’ve got to replace it a little more frequently during the season, but our strong inclination is to play football outdoors and on a grass field.”
Fullback Brock Bolen and linebacker Justin Cole were signed and offensive lineman Dominic Alford and wide receiver Keenan Davis were waived.
Bolen, 6-foot and 232 pounds, appeared in 20 NFL games with the Jacksonville Jaguars, totaling two rushes for 14 yards, three catches for 21 yards and 16 special-teams tackles. A native of Germantown, Ohio, Bolen went undrafted out of the University of Louisville. He sat out the 2012 season with a knee injury.
Cole, 6-3 and 243 pounds, played in 20 games with the St. Louis Rams, recording two career tackles and seven special-teams stops. The Pasadena, Calif., native signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and spent five weeks on the practice squad.
The Browns will answer fans’ questions submitted via Twitter and Facebook during a one-hour television special at 8 p.m. Aug. 1 on WKYC Channel 3. Owner Jimmy Haslam, Banner, President Alec Scheiner, General Manager Michael Lombardi and Coach Rob Chudzinski will appear, with voice of the Browns Jim Donovan serving as emcee. … Cornerback Joe Haden ranked 20th on ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.’s list of Top 25 players in the NFL under 25. … Chris Burke of SI.com ranked the Browns’ Jason Campbell No. 8 among backup quarterbacks in the league, with Kyle Orton of Dallas No. 1.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.