BEREA — Nate Burleson has been spinning his wheels for two weeks.
With the Browns’ offense out of rhythm and the receiving corps filled with question marks — none bigger than Josh Gordon’s possible suspension — Burleson has been unable to help, stuck to a stationary bike with a hamstring strain. He missed practice again Thursday, but ran inside, caught passes and hopes to make his Browns preseason debut Saturday night at home against the Rams.
“The first impression for me is a big deal,” Burleson said. “I look at that two ways: If I go out there and I’m healthy and I do well, it’s going to be a great first impression for me with the fans. But if I’m 80 percent, then that might not be the best impression.
“I want to give Cleveland what they deserve and that’s Nate at 100 percent.”
He’s serious about wanting to play Saturday.
“The plan is this week,” he said. “I tried to sneak my helmet out here and jump in and practice, but the trainers caught me. But I’m listening to the trainers.
“I wanted to play last week. The preseason for me is a big deal. I like it because it helps me with my confidence and creates momentum for me for the regular season. Hopefully I can convince these guys that I’m ready to rock.”
Burleson’s frustration level may be even higher when it comes to Gordon’s situation. News of his failed drug test and indefinite suspension broke in May, yet Gordon and the Browns don’t have resolution to his appeal.
Gordon continues to practice and play, yet could be sidelined for the entire season. If he wins the appeal, he wouldn’t be suspended at all. A settlement for a different number of games could also be reached.
“I can’t wait,” Burleson said. “I think he’s ready, too. I’m excited for whatever it is because I know Josh is ready.”
The NFL hasn’t said when the final ruling will be announced, but many suspensions are released on Friday afternoons and Gordon’s appeal hearing ended Aug. 4.
“I think it’s human nature. It’s definitely weighing on him,” coach Mike Pettine said. “He’s like all of us, wants to know and wants to get on with it and move forward. Just kind of being in limbo for so long can be draining.
“I think he made the comment (in an Instagram post) the other day, the football field is where he feels most at home. It’s important to him.”
Pettine said Tuesday that Gordon could’ve given better effort on a few plays Monday against Washington.
“We discussed what happened in the game, and he’s responded, and has had some good practices for us,” Pettine said. “I just think like all of us, it’s only natural that he’s frustrated.”
Burleson has seen Gordon trying to improve. He said Gordon was doing pushups during practice and told him he’s trying to lose a little weight and get in better shape.
“He probably wouldn’t tell you all that, but I’ll tell you because I’m his buddy and people need to know that,” Burleson said. “He’s faster than everybody right now. So imagine what’s going to happen when he tightens up even more. So I like where his head is at.”
With roster cuts from 90 to 53 coming over the next nine days, Burleson could be a topic of conversation among the front office and coaches.
The Browns desperately need production at receiver, and Burleson has 457 catches and 39 touchdowns in an 11-year career. But he turned 33 Tuesday, only $65,000 of his one-year, $1 million contract is guaranteed and he hasn’t practiced since Aug. 6.
“As a player, you’ve always got to be worried,” he said. “That’s the nature of the business. Hopefully I’ve put enough film on tape at practice to convince them that I’m a guy they need on this squad.
“But for me, it’s just getting healthy. I would love to force the issue and go out here and do something, but I’ve got to be smart. The trainers are here for a reason. But, yeah, I’m confident in my own skills. I know what I’m capable of. So I’ll be good.”
Burleson said receivers coach Mike McDaniel has reassured him the team knows what he can do, but he has his own motivation for making it back Saturday.
“I want to play because that’s what I get paid to do,” Burleson said. “They brought me here for a reason and that’s to add a sparkplug to this offense and make plays when the ball’s thrown to me. And then after that, I’m new here. So no new guy wants to be on the sideline and I know that firsthand.”
Pettine labeled Burleson’s timetable as “day to day” and readily admits his concerns with the receiving corps. The coach is confident in veteran Miles Austin and slot receiver Andrew Hawkins.
“After that, I see it as really wide open,” Pettine said. “There’s good competition for some of those other spots.”
Burleson plans to fill one of them. If Gordon is available, Burleson and Austin could form a veteran twosome at the No. 2 spot. If Gordon’s out, Burleson might need to fill that role by himself.
“They cut the check for me to come out here and make plays and be a leader, and it’s tough for me to do that on the sideline,” Burleson said. “Hopefully I can just get out on the field, give you guys a taste of what I’m about before the season starts and then hit the ground running for 16 games.”
When the season’s over, Burleson will assess his future. He mentioned retiring after the season to a Detroit reporter earlier this month.
“I told myself, if I can’t get open, then I’ll retire. And going up against some of these young guys, getting open consistently, it gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “So when I mentioned that, it was more about me writing the perfect ending to this movie. And that’s playing a tremendous season, giving Cleveland what they’ve always wanted in their football team, which is a team they can be proud of, and then walking off into the sunset.”
Burleson was non-committal when asked if this will be his final season.
“I don’t know,” he said. “The plan is to go out there and be the best 33-year-old wide receiver, make some plays, put up some numbers and then make the decision from there.
“I want to do something special here, as an organization and as an individual. I want to be able to show these young guys that you can age with grace and still make plays. But first and foremost, I’ve got to be here to help this squad. I was born to play football. I’m committed to this organization 100 percent.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. St. Louis Rams
WHAT: Third preseason game
WHEN: Saturday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium
TV/RADIO: Channel 3; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM, WNCX 98.5-FM