BEREA, OH (AP) – Banned for nearly two years, Josh Gordon ran uninhibited around the field.
While it may have only been a practice, for Gordon it was another new beginning – his last chance.
Suspended for the past two seasons, Gordon practiced with the Cleveland Browns for the first time in nearly 450 days on Wednesday, a significant moment in his comeback after nearly throwing away his NFL career.
On an otherwise cold, dreary afternoon, the sight of the 26-year-old Gordon gliding through routes and catching passes was warming for the winless Browns and coach Hue Jackson.
“This guy, he’s different,” Jackson said. “It’s fun to talk about him right now. It’s fun to have a guy as talented as he is back on our football team.”
One of the league’s most dynamic players before alcohol and marijuana use knocked his career off-path, Gordon was conditionally reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this month after being suspended numerous times for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Gordon hasn’t played in a regular-season game since the end of 2014, but it didn’t appear he has lost a step or any of his skills while running pass routes and catching passes during the segment of practice – his first since Aug. 31, 2016 – open to reporters.
“He is big. He is fast. He is athletic and strong,” Jackson said. “He has strong hands, and he can run. He can really run. That is exciting. He has some work to do the rest of this week, and next week, we will stick him out there and let him play.”
It was Gordon’s first practice in the regular season since Dec. 26, 2014. He has been suspended for Cleveland’s past 43 games and 53 of the past 58.
The Browns don’t have many players close to Gordon’s talent level, and Jackson said his presence alone impacts the team’s workouts.
“You can just see there is a different spirit at practice,” he said. “With him running around, there is different competition – the receiver versus the corner(back). That is nothing to say against the guys who are here. Josh is just a different talent. I think we all recognized that and appreciate that. I think his teammates see it. That is what it is all about.
“He is a really good player. As I told him today, he is going to earn it. There are a lot of things he has to continue to do and work through, and I think he is willing to do that.”
As long as he fulfills guidelines established by Goodell, Gordon, who returned in impeccable shape, is eligible to play in Cleveland’s Dec. 3 game at the Los Angeles Chargers and could be on the field for the season’s last five games.
Jackson can’t wait. Gordon led the league with 1,646 yards receiving in 2013 when he scored nine touchdowns, and if he’s close to being the same kind of player, he’ll give the Browns an offensive weapon as potent as any in the game.
When he left the Browns on the eve of last season to enter rehab, Jackson and the Browns appeared to be finished with Gordon.
Jackson said he had a change of heart about Gordon when he learned more about his struggles.
“Let’s be honest, what this man has dealt with is a disease,” Jackson said. “It happens and it affects a lot of people in the world. I had to first educate myself and what he was going through and what he was dealing with. I have not had a lot of exposure to him other than what I knew. Then once I understood it better and watched him earn the right to be back in this building, I felt more comfortable of understanding what was going on.”
“I truly believe this young man is working at. He still has to earn that from his teammates, from the coaches, from the fans and from you (media). That is what I think he understands now. He is in a lot better place now and a lot better place to have people assist him through this process.”