New Browns wide receiver Davone Bess is convinced he wouldn’t be the man or football player he is today without first enduring misery and learning from it.
Bess was arrested in 2003 when he gave some friends who had just robbed a store a ride in his car. He spent 15 months in a juvenile detention center and lost a scholarship to Oregon State University shortly after he graduated from Skyline High School in Oakland, Calif.
Bess, though, capitalized on a second chance.
He went on to become the only player in University of Hawaii history to tally three 1,000-yard receiving seasons. He joined the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and evolved into one of the most reliable slot receivers in the NFL.
And in 2010, he established the Bess Route Foundation, which is dedicated to shaping positive lifestyles for underprivileged children and providing funds for families in need.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t remember those times, being undrafted and having to prove myself numerous amounts of times,” Bess said Monday during a conference call, his first chat with the local media since the Browns traded for him last week. “Those heartaches, those tough times, those experiences in my cell molded me into the man I am today. At the time, being a young adolescent, I didn’t understand it. But being older now, I’m so thankful of those moments.
“My whole thing was going back, not only into the inner city, but abroad or wherever, and teaching, not only kids, but whoever, everybody, that there is a best route. That was the motto for my foundation. [It] is choosing the best route in life, and that route is the positive way. We’re all going to have tough times. We’re all going to have experiences. We’re all going to have obstacles we got to overcome, but one thing we can always change is our mind and our attitude, and that’s kind of been my motto, and I’m just keeping it that way. And it’s been the driving and the key to my success.”
The Browns are counting on Bess, 27, not only to produce on the field, but also to infuse veteran leadership into a receiving corps featuring Josh Gordon, 22, and Greg Little, 23. It’s an element the team has sorely lacked at the position in recent years.
“Obviously, they have a bunch of young guys there who had pretty good seasons last year,” Bess said. “[I’m ready] to come in and just share my knowledge and be able to help out a group not only from a physical, playmaking standpoint, but just more mental and just understanding the game of football from an X’s and O’s standpoint. From what I heard, the guys are great, and I’m looking forward to meeting them all and jelling this team together.”
The Browns traded picks in the fourth (No. 104) and fifth (No. 164) rounds in this year’s draft for Bess and selections in the fourth (No. 111) and seventh (No. 217) rounds. Then they signed Bess to a three-year contract extension, which secures him through the 2016 season.
“He’s a good player, still good enough to contribute for a while,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said. “He’s very high character, all the things that we keep talking about that we’re looking for.”
Bess had spent all five of his NFL seasons with the Dolphins, finishing each one with at least 50 receptions. He also compiled 130 third-down receptions, second most in the league during that span.
“I take extreme pride in being productive in converting on third down,” Bess said. “[The key is] studying, watching my opponents and kind of having that chip on my shoulder and watching that bull’s-eye when third down comes.”
Although he’s eager to bring a knack for making clutch plays to the Browns, Bess conceded it’s “bittersweet” to be traded from the team with which he started his career.
“Obviously, being down here in Miami since my rookie year, having developed a relationship with the organization, the fans and kind of embracing my opportunity was something special here,” Bess said. “But all good things, they say, must come to an end. To jump ship to Cleveland was a great opportunity, a great stepping-stone for myself in my career. So personally it was a great move for me.”
Bess caught 61 passes for 778 yards and one touchdown in 13 starts this past season, missing the last three games because of a back injury. The Palm Beach Post reported some Dolphins coaches were not happy about Bess sitting out at the end of the season.
“To be honest, I have no idea [whether that was a factor that led to the trade],” said Bess, who’ll face the Dolphins Sept. 8 when they visit the Browns to open the 2013 season. “I kind of left that in last season. It was a touchy situation, but we let bygones be bygones. We squashed it, you know? We moved forward, and that’s the end of that.”
The 5-foot-10, 193-pound Bess hopes to flourish with his fresh start.
“Sixty-one catches [last season], I was thankful for it, but there was so much more I left out on the field,” Bess said. “That’s the great thing about growing and getting better every year, just understanding where you made your mistakes at. I’m looking forward to however many balls they want to throw my way, but obviously raising that number a lot more.”
Free-agent offensive tackle Winston Justice is scheduled to visit the Browns on Wednesday after spending time with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.
The 6-6, 317-pound Justice has started 43 of the 59 games in which he has appeared. The Browns have Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz entrenched as starters, but they could bolster their depth with Justice.
Justice, a right tackle, started all 12 games in which he appeared last season with the Indianapolis Colts. Justice, 28, spent his first six NFL seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles while Banner was their president.
The Browns parted ways with senior national scout Pat Roberts, who had been with the team since 2005, a source confirmed for the Beacon Journal, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. WKNR (850-AM) first reported the move. With a new regime in place and the draft finished, more changes are expected in the scouting department. … ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference call that he was surprised the Browns picked outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo at No. 6 overall instead of cornerback Dee Milliner, and he thought their sixth-round pick, safety Jamoris Slaughter, would go undrafted because he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon last season. Kiper gave the Browns a grade of C-plus for their draft. He gave the other AFC North teams better grades: Baltimore Ravens (A-minus), Cincinnati Bengals (A-minus) and Pittsburgh Steelers (B).