BEREA — For one afternoon, at least, the Browns boasted one of the top wide receiving corps in the NFL.
Josh Gordon was the best player on the practice field Wednesday, Miles Austin flashed in solo exercises and Earl Bennett and Andrew Hawkins showed why they have been productive receivers with their previous squads.
Unfortunately for the Browns, Gordon is unlikely to be with the group for long after reportedly violating the NFL’s banned substances policy for the third time. The third-year pro is facing a season-long suspension.
“Josh is a phenomenal player and we saw what he could do last year, but I’m really not aware of everything with the suspension,” Bennett said following the organized team activity session. “All I know is this is a great opportunity for me.
“We’ve got a lot of talent, and I’m excited to play with Miles because he’s a great player, a great route runner and a great runner after the catch.”
While Gordon declined interview requests, former Cowboys standout Austin and ex-Bears receiver Bennett were more than happy to talk about their new team. Both players signed their contracts Friday.
Persistent hamstring problems limited Austin to 24 receptions and 11 games last year in Dallas, but the two-time Pro Bowl selection insisted that better days are ahead.
“There are a bunch of good vibes in Cleveland with the Cavs getting the No. 1 pick, and I can be a positive part of it,” said Austin, who was released in a cost-cutting move by the Cowboys on March 12.
“From the first time I stepped into this locker room, everyone made me feel at home. I’m just going to try to come in and be a great teammate and fill in wherever they need me.”
Should Gordon’s suspension materialize, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Austin is the leading candidate to become the Browns’ go-to wideout. He has 301 career catches in eight years, along with a pair of 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
Off the field, the 29-year-old Austin also can help rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel deal with the national media spotlight, having dated Kim Kardashian in 2010.
“I already joked with Miles because he looks like a coach walking through the building,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “He tucks his shirt in all the time and he’s carrying around a cup of coffee.
“Really, (Austin and Bennett) are awesome, man. They’re high quality guys and they’re hard workers.”
Most importantly, Austin and Bennett should be able to help Cleveland win now, which might not have been the case had general manager Ray Farmer added a rookie wide receiver in the later rounds of the draft.
In 2013, Gordon led the NFL with a franchise-record 1,646 receiving yards on 87 receptions and scored nine touchdowns.
“I’m really happy to see Miles and Earl here because it shows that the front office identified a potential problem and acted quickly to fix it,” seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said. “They really will help our receivers’ room.”
Safety Tashaun Gipson made a beautiful interception on an out pattern throw by Brian Hoyer. He caught the pass in stride, then deftly dragged both feet on the grass before falling out of the bounds.
Hoyer also was picked off by Jamoris Slaughter, who was Cleveland’s sixth-round pick in 2013, but did not appear in a regular-season game.
Austin spoke with legendary Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar before choosing to wear No. 19. The only Cleveland player to sport that number since Kosar was cut in 1993 was wide receiver Frisman Jackson in 2004.
“I know how much the number means to him and the city of Cleveland, and I know how much it means to me,” Austin said. “I figured that it was the right thing to do, and I told him I’d do everything I could to make him proud.”
Thomas chuckled when asked if he thought the Browns’ latest regime would finally lead them to greatness.
“I don’t let myself think anymore,” he said with a smile. “I can’t let emotions control anything I do here.”
Guard Paul McQuistan and wide receiver Nate Burleson were not in attendance. McQuistan was at the White House with his former teammates on the Super Bowl XLVII champion Seahawks, while Burleson is recovering from minor surgery on his broken left arm.
Guard Garrett Gilkey and rookie defensive tackle Calvin Barnett got into a scrap at the line of scrimmage. Gilkey ripped Barnett’s helmet off during a pass play, leading to a brief scuffle.
Defensive end Ahtyba Rubin did not take part in the 90-minute practice because of an injury. Coach Mike Pettine refused to reveal specifics, but said he should be ready for training camp in late July.
Former Buckeye signs
Linebacker Larry Grant, who played in two BCS championship games at Ohio State and two JUCO national title games at City College of San Francisco, signed a contract with the Browns.
The 6-1, 251-pounder participated in Cleveland’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis last weekend, but is a four-year NFL veteran. Grant played in two games last season with Chicago, bringing his career total to 68 with the Bears, 49ers and Rams.
“He’ll be the first person to tell you he was out of shape in San Francisco, and he didn’t really take things seriously,” said Browns safety Donte Whitner, who was his teammate with Ohio State and the 49ers.
“But when you have an opportunity to look at things from the outside, that’s when you can change things. That’s what he did. Now, he’s here, and he’s slim and trim.”
Grant was a seventh-round draft pick by the 49ers in 2008. He was named the 2005 JUCO national player of the year.
With Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden signed to a long-term contract extension, Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron is the Browns’ most prominent future free agent.
Cameron said he would not elaborate on the subject, but the California native did deny rumors that he preferred to play on the West Coast.
“If I didn’t say it, it’s not true,” Cameron said. “I would love to play here. I started here. I want to finish up here. I’ll let my agent deal with all that, but like I said, if it didn’t come out of my mouth, it’s not true.”
Tour de Berea
The list of veterans unable to practice, but spotted outside riding exercise bikes were defensive linemen Desmond Bryant and Armonty Bryant, running back Chris Ogbonnaya, wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Charles Johnson and linebackers Tank Carder and Brandon Magee.
Rookie wide receivers Kenny Shaw and Taylor Gabriel, running backs Isaiah Crowell and Jourdan Brooks and defensive back K’Waun Williams were also riding the bikes.
Quote of the day
“It has to be Wiggins or Parker, right? But I don’t follow much college basketball.” — Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer on who the Cavaliers should select with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft.