BEREA: Sometimes the itch just won’t go away. And when there’s an itch, it must be scratched.
That’s what led wide receiver Anthony Armstrong to the Browns.
Armstrong signed with the organization May 19 after spending the 2013 season out of football. He tried out with the Browns last month during their rookie minicamp.
Now Armstrong, 31, hopes to bolster their wide receiving corps and to add a deep threat should the Browns’ primary threat, Josh Gordon, spend all or part of the upcoming season away from the field due to a suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
“I was trying to pursue some sort of post-football career and look into teaching and get my math certificate, but then I realized I never took calculus or trigonometry. That was going to be a problem,” Armstrong said earlier this week during mandatory minicamp. “I explored some other options, but I still had an itch deep down inside to play. [Offensive coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan] gave me a call and I was more than excited to be able to come out here and run around even if it was with rookie camp, it didn’t matter. I was just happy to be playing football.”
Running around has turned into something else, however. Armstrong was on the receiving end of several deep balls and made a strong impression during the recent minicamp.
He’s very familiar with the offense Shanahan employs, having excelled in it while a member of the Washington Redskins. He had 44 catches for 871 yards and three touchdowns once he got his first chance to appear in NFL regular-season games in 2010.
But Armstrong could never follow that up and has bounced around the league since, playing for the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys. He’s excited to be back in Shanahan’s system.
“[My] comfort level is probably expert because I ran it for two and a half years in Washington, and I was there from the beginning of the install,” he said. “So everything they’re doing now is knocking off the rust, digging back in the vault to remember how it’s done and find a way to do it better.”
Apparently that’s working for him.
“Anthony has come in and has just been the ultimate professional,” Browns Coach Mike Pettine said. “He’s a guy that shows up to work every day. He has a little bit of an advantage coming in because he knew the system, having been with Kyle in Washington. He definitely, despite his age, has some juice left for sure.”
He is one of the older players on the roster, but he doesn’t run like it and there’s little doubt the ability to go deep remains in his repertoire.
“Even though I’m 31, I can still run like I’m 21,” Armstrong joked. “That’s a blessing. Everybody jokes me, ‘Are you sure you’re 31?’ Yeah, I’m pretty old. You can check my I.D.
“Being able to run still is definitely part of just taking care of your body, getting a massage, stretching … things like that. It’s a process that I learned from when I was in Washington from Santana Moss. I’ve taken it into my own routine as well.”
That is the advantage to having veterans on the roster.
“He’s a good example for the young receivers — how to prepare, how to take care of your body, how to be an ultimate pro,” Pettine said.
He’s perfectly willing to impart knowledge to younger players such as Gordon, with whom he’s had interactions that he’s described as good.
“I haven’t had a sit down with him or anything like that,” Armstrong said. “He’s a good kid. He has all types of talent and ability. He has a lot of potential that I wish I had physically. … I run faster than he does, but no one catches one-handed like he does. It’s a trade-off. I’m always here for him if he needs anything to talk about.”
In the meantime, Armstrong, 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds, sees a chance to scratch that itch because the wide receiver battle will be wide open once training camp begins in late July.
“If you’re out there on the field, you have all the opportunity as anyone else,” he said. “Obviously for a rookie, your reps are going to be smaller, but that just means you have to take advantage of all of them.
“And it goes for somebody who’s been in the offense for a while. If you don’t take advantage of your opportunities, they’re going to give them to somebody else. So each and every play is an opportunity to make your mark and get better and try to make your niche into the offense.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.