BEREA: Josh Gordon’s 43-yard touchdown catch in Friday’s preseason game sent the Browns wide receiver on a trip down memory lane.
“It definitely did send a spark to me and help me remember some things,” Gordon, an All-Pro selection in 2013, said Tuesday before practice. “Have that sense of nostalgia of this is where I belong. This is where I need to be. This stage was meant for me to play on. That’s what I’m meant to do. Just doing it consistently and being here for this team, that’s really where it starts at, and that’s what I want to do.”
Gordon caught two passes for 87 yards and a touchdown in a 30-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third exhibition game. It was his first game action since Dec. 21, 2014.
After Gordon gained position near the goal line and caught quarterback Robert Griffin III’s touchdown pass over four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes with 1:53 left in the second quarter, he put his index finger in front of his mouth to signal his critics to be silent.
Gordon has been rampantly criticized for off-field decisions that have resulted in him being suspended for 27 of the past 32 games because of recurring violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He’ll serve another four-game suspension to begin this season. It will officially start at 4 p.m. Saturday, so Wednesday’s walk-through session will be Gordon’s last practice before the suspension goes into effect.
“When you’ve gone through the certain amount of things that I’ve gone through and people have their opinions, that’s just kind of what comes with it,” Gordon said. “I think that play and plays to come will slowly reflect that. Hopefully I can project a different image of myself.”
When he’s on the field, Gordon projects the image of an elite playmaker. He did it in his 2016 preseason debut in Tampa despite being banished from the league for all of last season.
Gordon didn’t just beat Grimes once Friday. During the Browns’ first possession, Gordon got past Grimes with a double move and was wide open when he caught a 44-yard pass from Griffin that set up Patrick Murray’s 35-yard field goal.
“That’s just the art of playing receiver — how to get to the ball and how to get open at all times,” Gordon said.
The stellar performance came on the heels of Gordon sitting out the first two preseason games with a quadriceps injury. The talk of him being overweight and out of shape has dissipated.
“He’s in better shape than he was, obviously. He’s lost weight. He looks like Josh,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “What I’ve learned is that he’s a really good football player that can do a lot of different things. He’s just another tool that we’ll add to our arsenal once we get him back. We’ll continue to keep growing him. But I think you guys all know what he is. I do now and looking forward to getting him back.”
The Browns will have Gordon and their other starters on the field for Thursday night’s preseason finale against the visiting Chicago Bears, but then he’ll be put on the shelf. Gordon will be permitted to stay with the team, work out at its training facility and attend meetings during his suspension, but he won’t be allowed to practice. He’s scheduled to return to practice Oct. 3 and make his 2016 regular-season debut Oct. 9 at home against the New England Patriots.
“He needs to stay in it [during the suspension],” Jackson said. “Obviously, he won’t be able to be out there with the team at practice, but he’ll be able to be in the building, which I think is a huge plus and we really appreciate the league allowing him to do that.
“He’ll be able to kind of follow along with where we are and stay in it from that standpoint. I think that’s really all he can do and just make sure he’s on top of things and really understanding how we game plan and what our process is as far as getting ready for a game.”
Gordon was exiled from the team last year during his banishment, which made him feel like “you’re kind of just in the wind.” He expects the new arrangement to help him weather the storm.
“I’ll be here with the team, working out with our training staff and make sure I stay in shape and be able to be at the point to pick up where I left off from this last preseason game,” Gordon said.
Gordon doesn’t expect it to take long to regain chemistry with Griffin, his close friend and former teammate at Baylor University.
“Me and Griff talk about it a lot. He says he remembers my timing from college, and he thinks it wouldn’t take too long,” Gordon said. “I don’t believe it would. It really wouldn’t. As much as we practice out here and as much as we talk together and get different looks in the preseason and during practice against our defense, he throws it up there a few times, I’ll gauge it, and I’ll go try to find it.”
They were on the same page immediately Friday. Griffin targeted Gordon twice, and he made big plays on both passes.
“I know what to expect with him,” Griffin said. “When he steps out there on the field, he’s got a chip on his shoulder, and he’s ready to go out and make plays for us.”
Gordon hopes to make plays for the Browns for a long time. He’s scheduled to become a restricted free agent in March but wants to return.
“Given the opportunity, I would love to come back to Cleveland,” he said. “Definitely.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.