By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
- Browns vs. Jaguars: Injury report
- Browns vs. Jaguars: Five key numbers to know for Sunday
- Browns vs. Jaguars: Predictions from Nate Ulrich, Marla Ridenour and Ryan Lewis
- Browns vs. Jaguars: Quote of the week
- Browns vs. Jaguars: How they rank
- Browns vs. Jaguars: Five storylines to know for Sunday
- NFL preview capsule — Dec. 1
- NFL notebook — Nov. 30
BEREA: Josh Gordon started this season with a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, endured rampant trade speculation until the end of October and is on pace to shatter the Browns’ single-season record for receiving yards despite those obstacles.
“This was a tough year for me,” Gordon said. “I see it as a real persevering type deal -- the whole season, honestly. That’s really what it is. Just pushing through the adversity, it just goes to show that if you just stay levelheaded, get your head out of the rumors and negativity, you can rise above or overcome just about everything. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon obviously can be an elite wide receiver as long as he can stay out of his own way. He blamed prescription cough medicine that contained codeine for the two-game suspension he served this season, and it’s his understanding that one more failed drug test would lead to banishment from the NFL for at least a year.
If Gordon needs a reminder about what’s at stake, he can look at the roster of the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) and identify who’ll be missing when they face the Browns (4-7) at 1 p.m. Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
On Nov. 1, Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon, the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, was suspended indefinitely without pay for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy after he had already been hit with a four-game suspension to start this season. Gordon failed three marijuana tests in college, two at Baylor University and another at the University of Utah, and he has a suspension from the NFL on his record. As a result, the Browns and their fans worry about him suffering the same fate as Blackmon.
Gordon, though, believes he won’t let it happen.
“I’m confident because I just know me, I know myself,” said Gordon, whom the previous regime picked in the second round of last year’s supplemental draft. “Things like that coming in between me and my goals and my career, I can’t really see that happening. It’s unfortunate for [Blackmon], but I’m my own man, and I can do things a totally different way.
“That’s a totally different guy, totally different situation. I wish the best to him, but I know nothing about that situation. … But as to me being motivated to do the right thing, I should always be in that mindset, and that’s how I am.”
If Gordon can do the right thing over the long haul, his teammates, coaches and opponents are convinced he’s a sure bet to attain greatness. In that case, the Browns’ decision not to accept any of the trade offers other teams made for Gordon before the Oct. 29 deadline would pay off.
“I’ve seen a lot, but he’s special,” Browns veteran wide receiver Davone Bess said. “He definitely has the ability to be one of the top receivers in this league. Obviously with the season he’s having, he is already, but the sky’s the limit for him. He just needs to keep growing and continue to stay humble.”
Gordon, 22, has been humble throughout this season. Last week, he tied Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome’s single-game franchise record with 14 catches and broke Newsome’s single-game team record with 237 receiving yards. After the game, he insisted the feat “means nothing” because the Browns lost 27-11 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, however, didn’t downplay the significance of Gordon’s production, even though he caught seven passes for 158 yards and a touchdown with the outcome virtually sealed in the fourth quarter.
“He’s way ahead of the young receivers I’ve been around in terms of the way he has developed through this year,” Turner said. “You get an opportunity to have a game like that, you don’t want it to be in a situation like that where you’re behind, you don’t want to do it when it’s a losing cause, but the fact that he physically did it means that he’s going to continue to do it, and he’s going to help this team win a lot of games.”
In nine games this season, Gordon has tallied 54 catches for 988 yards, which ranks fifth in the NFL, and five touchdowns. He’s averaging 109.8 receiving yards per game and is on pace to finish the season with 1,536, which would break ex-Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards’ single-season franchise record of 1,289 set in 2007. Barring an unforeseen injury in the final five weeks, Gordon will play 14 games this year. Edwards played all 16 games in 2007.
“Hopefully I can chase that rabbit and I can get it,” Gordon said of Edwards’ record. “But ultimately we want some more wins. We want to win out.”
Edwards made the Pro Bowl during that record-setting season. Still, Gordon has repeatedly played the humble card, insisting he’s not worthy of such accolades just yet. He is eligible for the Pro Bowl, unlike players who receive suspensions for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
“I might be in the [Pro Bowl] discussion because of the numbers and everything like that, but I feel as though I've still got a lot more to prove,” Gordon said. “And if it's going to be, I hope it's an undeniable-type thing, and I know I deserved it.”
Added Browns free safety Tashaun Gipson: “He's an absolute beast. I’m glad he’s on my team and we don’t have to guard him. … Pro Bowl? He's got my vote. I'm pretty sure he’ll get a lot more.”
Gordon’s teammates believe he has matured this season. Some media members have criticized him for loafing in the past, but those accusations have subsided.
“There’s a noticeable difference in how he practices from last year to this year,” Browns tight end Jordan Cameron said. “He’s finishing a lot more. The way he carries himself, I think he’s a lot more confident.
“He has so many gifts, and he really knows how to get up and catch the ball. The way he runs is so fluid. On film, it stands out so much. He really stretches the field, and he’s a guy who could easily be a top-five receiver in the NFL.”
Opponents are bracing for Gordon as if he’s already in the upper echelon of playmakers.
“As a coaching staff, when we watched the tape, we very much saw really good ball skills, a really, really strong competitor, all the qualities that you’re looking for in an elite receiver,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “I know just for us, as we’re watching him, we would put him in that category.
Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas is amazed what Gordon has triumphed over to earn such a high level of respect in his second NFL season.
“It’s a tough thing, especially as a young player, when you have a lot of things swirling around you whether it be the suspension or the trade rumors,” Thomas said. “I think that’s big part of his growing and maturity process that he was able to put that behind him and understand that he needs to focus on what happens on the field. It’s great to see.”
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.