BEREA — The Browns are certainly frustrated – even exasperated – by the off-field troubles of Josh Gordon.
But they’re not giving up on the All-Pro receiver.
“He’s a brother to us and we have his back no matter what,” tight end Jordan Cameron said.
Gordon lined up with the first-team offense again Tuesday during organized team activities. He was the first to go through receiver drills and was, as usual, a popular target of the quarterbacks.
This came four days after news broke of his latest trouble off the field. Gordon was stopped for speeding Memorial Day weekend – 74 mph in a 60 mph zone in Strongsville – and one of the passengers admitted to having marijuana.
“I just think any time there’s issues off the field, regardless of the player, it can be (troubling) if it’s a pattern,” said coach Mike Pettine, who wouldn’t say if the team disciplined Gordon.
Gordon, who’s scheduled to appear in court today for his latest speeding violation, could face an indefinite suspension from the league, pending an appeal, after reportedly failing a marijuana test. He was dismissed from the teams at Baylor and Utah after failing at least three tests, and was suspended for the first two games last year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
“It’s going to take you falling down to learn how to get up again,” veteran receiver Nate Burleson said. “In the analogy of football, it’s going to take a few fumbles before you learn how to secure the ball.
“Just because a guy goes through a situation, that doesn’t mean that he’s a bad individual or the system he’s in isn’t working or the league isn’t working. It happens. It’s just a learning experience and hopefully whatever comes from this, good or bad, long or short, he’s going to come out of this a better man. I’m sure of that.”
Pettine reiterated that Gordon has been engaged when he’s at the team facility, including being “solid” in the classroom. But Gordon admitted last year when he returned from the suspension that he can drift when he’s away from the structure of the organization.
The Browns tried to include Gordon during the offseason, inviting him to meet with potential free agents and draft picks. It didn’t eliminate the problems on his own time with his circle of friends.
“There’s a lot of help available,” Pettine said when asked if the league does enough to support players with issues. “The mandated programs for rookies are very important. It’s very impressive, but there has to be a willingness on the other side.
“Sometimes guys get the message, then it’s too late. In all my time in the league, there’s always going to be a handful of guys that just don’t get it. I think the league’s done more than enough to get the word out. I think the better clubs are the ones that are very proactive instead of reactive, and I think that’s the situation that we have here.”
“He’s a grown man. He’ll figure it out sooner or later,” Cameron said. “If he needs talking to and he’s open to that, we’ll talk to him. But he’s a smart guy. He’ll figure it out and make it happen.”
The NFL has no timetable for announcing any punishment and Pettine said the organization remains in “a holding pattern.” Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer have said they have contingency plans for life without Gordon, but the uncertainty surrounding arguably the team’s most talented player looms large over the offseason workouts that wrap up with mandatory minicamp next week.
“Until we hear from the league, we’re going to be business as usual,” Pettine said. “At this point, there’s nothing to act on.”
Gordon hasn’t talked to the media since ESPN’s report May 9 of the latest failed drug test. His coaches and teammates have been left to speak for him and speculate on his well-being and anxiety level.
“I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t (be weighing on him),” Pettine said. “It would be human nature.”
Burleson said Gordon’s time on the field tells a different story.
“I think if it did or if it was, he wouldn’t be as productive as he is at practice,” Burleson said. “He’s showing up every day as the No. 1 receiver, he’s not showing up as a guy who’s uncertain about his future. That’s all he can do right now, is go to work as if he’s our No. 1 because he is.”
Burleson has only been with the Browns since April, and has spent much of that time watching with his left forearm in a cast that’s scheduled to be removed this week. He doesn’t feel he knows Gordon well enough to lecture him, but wants to share what he’s learned in 12 years in the league.
“You can’t overstep your boundaries. We’ve kind of chatted a little bit and in due time we’ll discuss it in detail,” said Burleson, who planned a receivers dinner for Tuesday night. “Not just that, but about life in football.
“I’m here as a guy who, one, can show young guys how to be a professional athlete on and off the field and, two, try to motivate them in different ways. He’s so gifted and so talented that it’s hard to coach greatness.”
Burleson has a lot of experience from which to draw. He’s played with Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson, two of the most gifted receivers in the NFL’s recent history. He believes Gordon belongs in the same conversation.
Gordon led the league with a franchise-record 1,646 receiving yards last season.
“You only get so many guys every few years that redefine the position and he’s one of those guys,” Burleson said. “He’s not your traditional receiver. There’s Calvin and there’s Randy, these guys were hit with that special stick and God blessed them with attributes you can only create in video games.
“For him to miss any time, it’s a loss for everybody in general, fans especially. The hope is that he’s on the field. What I want to try to get him to understand is if he harnessed what he has and what he’s been gifted with, he’s going to be trouble in this league for a long time.”
If Gordon misses significant time, Burleson, slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and veteran pickups Miles Austin and Earl Bennett will be asked to carry the load at wideout.
“Gotta make some plays, man. Simple,” Burleson said. “I’m about to be 33 in August, so if I get the opportunity to step up to the forefront and hold down the fort for as long as it may take, I’m sure I’m going to make some plays and have people out here in Cleveland understand that I’m a playmaker. And then if he steps back in, I’ll take a backseat.
“It’s the next guy up and you gotta embrace the opportunity. It comes in different ways, with injuries, it comes with illness and it comes with all kinds of things so this is another situation.”
Cameron was second to Gordon on the Browns last year with 80 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. He may be asked to do even more this season.
“Obviously if you lose the leading receiver in the NFL it’s not the best thing in the world for your offense,” Cameron said. “But Kyle (Shanahan, coordinator) will find a way to fill the void. If that’s me getting more reps and opportunities, I’m happy. That’s what you want in the NFL. You want the reps. You want the ball.
“If that’s the case this year, I’ll be more than willing to put the team on my back. The bigger the role, the better for me, I would say.”