CLEVELAND — He looks like a wide receiver. On Thursday night he played like a wide receiver.
Now, if he can only keep it together between the ears he can become a damn good wide receiver.
And that’s a big if.
With Detroit Lions’ wide out Calvin Johnson sidelined, Josh Gordon was clearly the best wide receiver on the field in the venerable Great Lakes Classic on Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. Gordon was targeted four times in the first half and caught three balls for 72 yards. He has five catches for 99 yards in two preseason games.
As the fourth quarter stumbled to a close, Gordon could be seen walking up and down the sideline, holding a ball in his right arm, ball cap on his head and a smile on his face.
He should be happy. His future is bright. Unfortunately, his future is on hold at least for the first two regular season games.
“In February, I was diagnosed with strep throat for which a doctor prescribed antibiotics and cough medicine,” said Gordon in an issued statement June 7 after the NFL suspended him two games for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
“Apparently, the medicine I took contained codeine, which is prohibited by the NFL policy. The policy terms are strict about unintentional ingestion, but the NFL has not imposed the maximum punishment in light of the facts of my case. Therefore, I have chosen to be immediately accountable for the situation. I sincerely apologize for the impact on my team, coaches, and Browns fans. I look forward to working hard in training camp and pre-season, and contributing immediately when I return in week three.”
Perhaps he’s telling the truth. Or he was caught doing something he shouldn’t. Doesn’t matter. He won’t play in the opener against the Miami Dolphins or a week later at the Baltimore Ravens.
The Browns are familiar with this scenario. Last season, starting cornerback Joe Haden missed the first four games for using a banned substance in the offseason (Adderall). In the four games in which Haden was suspended, the Browns lost all four and allowed 274.3 yards passing in each game. Moreover, during that four-game span, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green caught seven balls for 58 yards and a touchdown, New York Giants’ Victor Cruz had five catches for 50 yards and three touchdowns and Baltimore Ravens’ Anquan Bolden and Torrey Smith combined for 15 catches for 228 yards.
Haden is the best player on the Browns’ defense. At least he was last year. His absence cost the Browns at least one win in those first four games.
What does this have to do with Gordon?
So while Haden put the defense at a disadvantage for his selfish mistake, Gordon may be doing the same this year for the offense.
So far this preseason, Gordon is being a good solider. He is working hard and it is translating on the field where he looks like he’s developing into Weeden’s favorite target. The idea that the young wide receiver “is still raw” may be lessening.
With the emerging Gordon, the Browns’ receiving corps appears to be displaying some weapons along with Greg Little, Davone Bess and tight end Jordan Cameron. They’ve come a long way of the days of Mohamad Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Chansi Stuckey and Alex Smith as the top options in the passing game.
Hopefully, this two-game hiatus is just what Gordon needed to rid himself of the shady off-the-field dealings. If it is, Weeden will benefit. The Browns will surely benefit. And the stadium’s scoreboard operator may actually be busy on a Sunday.