While the waiting game continues for the Cleveland Browns and Josh Gordon, the team plans to use Gordon in Saturday night’s preseason game in Detroit.
Maybe that’s a sign of hope. Maybe it’s to keep him sharp. Maybe it’s by necessity.
For the Browns to think about taking a leap in the win column this season, they need Gordon, the NFL’s leader in receiving yards last season despite missing the season’s first two games due to suspension. This year, his entire season is in jeopardy as he awaits a ruling on his suspension appeal hearing that started last week and continued in this week.
He’s been back on the practice field since. The Browns don’t appear to know any more than anyone else when it comes to the eventual verdict.
"As frustrating as it is for Josh, I think he’s handled it well," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "He’s been practicing hard, giving good effort, finishing plays."
Gordon missed three practice days last week, including the team’s 80-play intrasquad scrimmage, while traveling to and from the hearing. When he’s been in camp he’s played on mixed units — like all of the receivers have — with different quarterbacks and personnel groupings.
Still, there’s no missing Gordon, the biggest, fastest and most dangerous of the Browns receivers.
"To his credit, he’s been very, very good about coming into work and making it about football," Browns wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel said. "In his mind, he wants to be as good as there is. When you’re showing plays (in meetings) of other people at his position doing things that he hasn’t put in his game yet, he’s interested and very competitive to work on that."
Of the uncertainty surrounding Gordon’s status, McDaniel said, "My job is to develop players so it really hasn’t been an issue for me. I just go and work on his craft with him. He’s been very diligent when he’s been here, and for the person and the whole team, we hope the best and just wait for the process to take care of itself."
On how far away Gordon is from reaching his potential:
"He’s a very unique talent in that his ceiling, there’s not much higher than that. It’s semantics to sit here and say he’s the first, second, third. At the end of the day, he led the league in receiving. If you extrapolate it to 16 games, it would have been the second-highest total in the history of the game, and he has a lot of room to grow as a route runner."
McDaniel, who’s come up through the coaching ranks with the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and Washington Redskins, said Gordon "is as good as I’ve ever seen."
With more work, more experience and certainly more maturity, Gordon’s best football could still be ahead.
"He’s a very natural receiver," McDaniel said. "He’s just learning the nuances of NFL offenses because the best receivers are ones that can get open in the timing of the play. You have to kind of get a clock in your head of when to get open and how to do it against different techniques.
"He’s a very unique talent in that his ceiling, there’s not much higher than that (anywhere). It’s semantics to sit here and say he’s the first, second, third (best). At the end of the day, he led the league in receiving. If you extrapolate (his 2013 numbers) to 16 games, it would have been the second-highest total in the history of the game — and he has a lot of room to grow as a route runner."
So, the Browns and their new coaches and their quarterbacks are waiting. Nervously. Anxiously.
Asked earlier in camp about the potential of playing without Gordon, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said, "We expect all (of the receivers) to step up. I expect it to be receivers by committee. I rarely go into games and force the ball to a certain player. Obviously, when you go out there and have a guy like Josh, you’re going to move him around and try and get him the ball, but you’re not going to force it. You hope a guy takes coverage away and you go to where the matchups are."
On one of Johnny Manziel’s first plays quarterbacking the first unit in practice on Monday, Manziel locked in on Gordon early. The defense knew that, too, and safety Jim Leonhard deflected Manziel’s slant pass into the air. Fellow safety Donte Whiter intercepted it.
Considering the alternative, too much reliance on Gordon is a problem the Browns would like to gradually solve.
For three full months now, all involved have been waiting on an answer.