BEREA, Ohio — If the Browns lose Josh Gordon for all or part of the 2014 season, they need a receiver to emerge.
Miles Austin is the closest to a No. 1 receiver on the current roster, minus Gordon.
Austin has been a two-time Pro Bowl performer and has looked good in the early going of training camp. He’s caught almost every pass thrown his way and has not appeared to have any setbacks with his hamstrings.
Head coach Mike Pettine was asked if he felt if Austin could be the team’s No. 1 receiver if Gordon is unable to play.
"He could be based on his history," Pettine said after practice Thursday. "I think he’s done a great job in this offseason with his health. While he had hamstring issues (in the past) and he’s much more in tune with his body now and hopefully, we can get him through camp and to game days."
Austin is coming off a sub-par season in 2013 where he had just 24 receptions for 244 yards and no touchdowns in just 11 games. In 2012, he had 66 catches for 943 yards with six touchdowns.
His best two seasons were in 2009 and 2010 with the Cowboys when he had 81 receptions for 1,320 yards with 11 touchdowns in ’09 and 69 catches for 1,041 yards and seven touchdowns in ’10, earning trips to the Pro Bowl after both seasons.
Austin downplayed starting strong.
"Really strong start? Probably not, in my opinion," Austin said. "I feel good physically, which is a positive thing — I think the most important thing regardless of what the actual results are for me — but I just want to continue to get more and more reps, more and more plays, know the offense more and more and just continue to work on my techniques. That’s my main goal."
Pettine was asked what are Austin’s strengths.
"It’s his size," he said. "He’s a veteran guy. He’s great with his hands and knows how to create separation. When you say crafty veteran, that’s him. He knows all the tricks and he’s still sneaky fast. He still covers a lot of ground fast."
Austin (6-2, 215) is in his ninth year and admits he’s settling in with a new situation for the first time in his career after the previous eight seasons with the Cowboys.
"I don’t know what my role is regardless of anything," he said. "I’m just going out there trying to work as hard as I can and do the best I can with the opportunities given to me regardless of what position I’m in or how that works. I’ve just got to try my best at whatever.
"I don’t know how my role is going to develop or come to be," he said. "I don’t know what it’s going to be. I’ve just got to try my best to make it as big as possible and be able to contribute as much as I can.
"Whether I’m outside in the two-receiver set, inside the slot — I was mostly in the slot, honestly, when we were in three-receiver sets the last couple years — whatever they feel most comfortable with is what I’m willing to do."
Austin thinks the Browns receiving corps will do fine–with or without Gordon.
"I feel like we’re all competing at a really high level," Austin said. "We’re competing with each other, against each other, against the defense. I think I’m doing alright. I’d like to obviously be doing a lot better. I’d like to win every single time, which doesn’t always happen."
Greco, Winn Back: Two more veteran players returned to practice Thursday. OL John Greco and DL Billy Winn (hamstring) came off the Active/non-football injury list and returned to practice. It was the first practice for each player.
"I don’t think he’s missed a beat," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "He understands what we’re asking him to do."
Shanahan said there’s an upside to Greco being off a few days.
"He’s got fresh legs."
There are only two players on the Active/non-football injury list: DL Phil Taylor and OL Nick McDonald.
On the Side: LB Tank Carder, LB Darius Eubanks were on the side with trainers during practice. OL Randall Harris left practice with the trainers and WR Chandler Jones missed practice for the second-straight practice.
Gordon Off: WR Josh Gordon was not on the practice field and Pettine confirmed that he was traveling to New York for his appeal on his substance abuse situation with the NFL scheduled for Friday.
Defense Wins Orange Jerseys Again: The defense practiced in orange jerseys for winning a competition with the offense on Tuesday.
At the end of practice Thursday, Pettine had a competition that came down to one situation. He placed the ball on the two-yard line, 3rd-and-2 on the two with the offense down by five with 15 seconds left and one timeout. On the first play, a pass play, a penalty was called on the defense to put the ball on the one.
The defense then stuffed RB Ben Tate short of the goal line as he tried to get into the end zone, resulting in a win for the defense, once again.
"I thought the offense had the upper hand most of the day, even early in the goal line in the offense," Pettine said. "What happens all the time is games come down to the fourth quarter, so we’ll put the ball at 2-yard line and whoever comes out on top gets the jersey.
"The lesson to learn is how many games decided by eight points or less and truly come down to the fourth quarter. The defense will be wearing orange again (Friday)."
CPA Leonard: New Browns safety Jim Leonhard is a quick study. He was on the practice field wearing No. 30 after being signed Wednesday night by the Browns. Pettine is familiar with Leonhard as he played for him with the Jets and the Bills last season.
"There’s a lot to like," Pettine said. "He’s smart. He’s tough. It took about 10 minutes to get him caught up to speed with the subtle changes in terminology."
Leonhard (5-8, 188) is in his 10th season from Wisconsin. Pettine was asked why Leonhard has been able to play so long.
"He’s productive," he said. "He’s the perfect example. You look at him you think he should be doing your taxes and not playing safety (in the NFL).
"He makes the players around him better," Pettine said. "He had a career high interceptions last year so he can still play at a high level."
Pettine was asked why he was brought in so late.
"We wanted to assess the guys here and talked about it and finally got a chance to evaluate the roster and felt let’s go ahead and get him here."
Pettine was asked what he envisions Leonhard’s role to be.
"He’s a core special teams player and in a third safety package, he could potentially help."
The Rabbit Doing Well: WR Travis Benjamin has been fielding punts with the first unit and taking his turn with the receivers. He was given a scheduled day’s rest Monday, but other than that he appears to have no problems.
"He’s had no issues and no residual effects of the injury," Pettine said.
Next Up: The Browns will practice again in Berea on Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. before heading to the University of Akron for a Family Day scrimmage on Saturday at InfoCision Stadium from 11:30 a.m. to 2:10 p.m.