By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns wide receiver Jordan Norwood has made enough spectacular catches during training camp to fill a highlight reel, but he’s still bitter about the pass he couldn’t haul in Monday as he dived and bobbled the ball while somersaulting backward in the end zone.
“That’s where my mind goes,” Norwood said with a laugh. “But I’m just out here competing like everybody else and trying to get better and trying to make this team better.”
If the early stages of camp are any indication, Norwood is a serious contender to secure a spot on the 53-man roster. Signed by former Browns General Manager Tom Heckert in 2010 after being released by the Philadelphia Eagles, Norwood knows he must convince the new regime that he’s worth keeping.
“It’s a new year,” Norwood said. “You need to prove yourself again. You need to do well in the preseason and training camp.
“I’m focusing on doing the right things and catching the football. I’m just focused on being a part of this football team.”
Wide receivers Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Davone Bess, Travis Benjamin and David Nelson, provided he can continue to rebound from the season-ending knee injury he suffered last year, are considered locks to make the team. At least one more receiver will likely survive roster cuts at the end of the preseason, especially because the NFL has suspended Gordon during the first two games of the regular season for violating its substance-abuse policy.
“There is competition every year in training camp,” said Norwood, who entered the league with the Browns in 2009 as an undrafted free agent from Penn State University. “If Josh was going to be here for the first two games, it wouldn’t be any different, I don’t think. I think competition is great for our team, and it will make us all better in the end. I have no idea how that’s going to work out.”
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Norwood has served primarily as a slot receiver throughout his career, appearing in 17 games with four starts and compiling 36 catches for 405 yards and a touchdown. But operating out of the slot is also the calling card of Bess, who the Browns acquired this offseason in a trade with the Miami Dolphins.
Norwood, a Honolulu native whose father, Baylor University associate head coach Brian, played football for the University of Hawaii in the 1980s, has watched Bess closely since the latter’s days at Hawaii. Norwood said he welcomes the arrival of Bess and is optimistic that there’s room for both of them on the same roster.
“I hope so,” Norwood said. “I mean whether he was here or not, I’m going to come out here and do the same thing in practice. Davone is somebody that I’ve learned a lot from and somebody that I’ve looked up to while he was in college, so I’m happy to be on his team.”
Through the first week of camp, Norwood has been the most productive player among the second tier of receivers, which includes Josh Cooper, Dominique Croom, Mike Edwards, Tori Gurley, Cordell Roberson and Naaman Roosevelt. Norwood has even received a few reps with the first-team offense.
“He has had a good camp so far,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said of Norwood. “He’s made plays. He’s running good routes and able to separate. And he’s really caught the ball well as well. He’s healthy.”
Norwood realizes the importance of avoiding injuries.
In Week 5 of last season, he set career highs with nine catches and 81 yards against the New York Giants but suffered a season-ending sprained left foot that forced him to use a walking boot and crutches. He was placed on injured reserve and designated for return. He came back to practice Dec. 19 but didn’t play in either of the final two games.
“It’s factual — it sets you back,” said Norwood, who also missed the final two games of the 2011 season with a concussion. “Coming in, especially with a new coaching staff and new regime, you have to show first of all that you are durable and show that you can still play and show that your injury is not affecting you anymore. So sure there are some setbacks, but everybody gets hurt out here. It’s nothing that’s specific to me that I’m going through. Everybody gets hurt out here and needs to show they are healthy all the time.
“Yeah, that’s frustrating. You want to stay healthy, and I mean that’s out of your control a lot of times. And sometimes it’s in your control. So, for me, the things that I can take control of with my body, I need to do. I worked on my strength and conditioning a lot [this offseason]. I want to be durable. I want to be able to make it through 16 games and make it through preseason first of all.”
Another key factor in Norwood’s quest to make the team will be his performance on special teams. The Browns are trying to fill the void created by the free-agency departure of three-time Pro Bowl return man Josh Cribbs.
“It's going to take a great effort because Josh was — still is — a great punt returner, kick returner, special-teams guy,” Norwood said. “One guy won't even replace him. We'll just try and fill his role in different ways with different guys.”
Benjamin is the front-runner to return punts, but Norwood is in the mix, too. In 2011, he returned four punts for 35 yards (8.8 average). He also has been fielding some kickoffs during camp, though he has never returned one during a game.
“I think [special teams is] always important,” Norwood said. “It’s something I enjoy doing as far as punt returning. I’d love to do kick returning, but I’ve never done it. But it’s very important. … If I get a shot, I would love to hop back there.”
He would also love to bounce back after being hurt for the majority of last season and catch every pass thrown his way.
“I missed a lot of the season,” Norwood said, “so I’m excited to get this one started for sure.”
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.