It’s been 20 months since Josh Gordon participated in a practice for the Cleveland Browns.
That changed Monday afternoon.
Gordon was finally cleared and activated off of the active/non-football injury (NFI) list after reporting to the team with a quadriceps injury on July 26.
“The quad’s great,” Gordon said. “The best it’s felt in a long time. I feel good.”
Gordon was limited to individual and positional work in his first practice with the Browns since Dec. 26, 2014. The team plans to work him into 11-on-11 team drills soon but it’s highly unlikely he will play Thursday night against the Falcons.
“It was good to watch him move around, catch the ball and be involved with his teammates,” head coach Hue Jackson said. “As I said, he’s done a great job.”
The 2013 season feels like it was a decade ago since Gordon took the NFL by storm and led everyone with 1,646 yards receiving in just 14 games – a level of play he feels he can return to quickly in 2016.
“I’m definitely the same guy,” Gordon said. “I’m confident in my abilities. I know what I can do. Just given the opportunity and the right timing, right position and the relying on the rest of the team as much as they rely on me, it’s a great boost of motivation and I think anything is possible for anybody, but I definitely am aware of what I can do and I think I can build upon that and do even better.”
Talent has never been the question for Gordon, dating back to his college days at Baylor. Doping what it takes to just be available on game day has been.
Down to his last strike – at least with the Browns – Gordon appears to be grateful to get one last chance.
“I’m excited to be back,” Gordon said. “These guys are great. This opportunity we have here is like nothing I’ve felt before or seen before. and I really want to be a part of it. Just being happy around, everybody feels differently and you feel more enthusiastic about coming to work when guys are ready to commit themselves to win. And I think it rubs off on everybody.”
Like they did for Johnny Manziel a year ago during camp, Gordon’s teammates and coaches have been heaping praise on the receiver concerning his attitude, work ethic and overall direction in life.
“Josh does everything asked of him and then he goes above and beyond,” receiver Andrew Hawkins said Monday. “He’s in his playbook. He’s there early for treatment. He’s locked in and I can’t speak enough about how well he’s been so far. I’m excited for him to continue on that track and get on the field and be the Josh Gordon that we’re all looking for.”
The proof for Gordon that he is a new man won’t be in his or the words of teammates, it’ll be in his behavior going forward.
Since the Browns selected Gordon in the second round of the 2012 supplemental draft, he missed the first 2 games of the 2013 season because of a substance abuse suspension that he attributed to prescribed cough syrup.
Gordon was hit with a 10 game ban – 8 for substance abuse and 2 more for a DUI – in 2014 that also saw him suspended by the Browns for violating team rules during the final week of the season.
Then came January of 2015 when he posted a picture of himself on a private jet on the way to Las Vegas with teammates and a former Browns receivers coach on social media that appeared to show him with an alcoholic beverage in his hand. Unbeknownst to everyone – including Gordon – according to a letter he wrote that was published by The Cauldrin, that was a violation. The league tested him immediately, he failed, and he was banned for a year.
His application for reinstatement was denied in April because of a test result that produced a red flag for the league and he was finally granted a conditional reinstatement on July 25 by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell following a meeting between them the week before in New York.
A lot has changed with the Browns themselves since he last saw the field. The coaching staff and front office, wiped out. Same with the environment behind the scenes. The change has been so drastic that Gordon can’t help but notice and he is using the new culture to drive him.
“It’s something I haven’t really felt in a long time and once you get that type of feeling, that type of vibe and environment, being around happy people, it kind of just rubs off on you and I missed it,” Gordon said. “Being back here, I love it and I try to take full advantage of it and I’m glad to be back.”
Gordon will serve another 4-game suspension this year marking the fourth straight season he’s been suspended. That’s a total of 33 games while playing in just 35.
Since the day he walked in the door in January, Jackson has wiped the slate clean for everyone – including Gordon. It’s now on him to write a different story than the one that has followed him for the past 6 years.