BEREA, Ohio (AP) — On any given day, Josh Gordon’s size, speed and agility separates him from others on the field. He’s that rare talent, the player everyone notices.
He’s standing out for another reason.
Gordon is awaiting another possible NFL suspension for reportedly failing a drug test, a violation that could cost the Pro Bowl wide receiver a full season. But while his future remains cloudy, Cleveland’s young star is doing all he can to improve his dazzling skills. After gliding over the middle on Tuesday, Gordon leaped to snag a pass before tucking the ball away and sprinting from a defender.
If he’s burdened, Gordon’s hiding it well.
“He’s showing up every day as the No. 1 receiver, he’s not showing up as a guy who’s uncertain about his future,” said wide receiver Nate Burleson. “That’s all he can do right now, is go to work as if he’s our No. 1 because he is.”
Arguably Cleveland’s best player, Gordon could be facing a lengthy suspension for marijuana use. The 23-year-old was suspended two games last season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and still led the league in yards receiving.
The league has not commented on Gordon’s status. He complicated his situation last week when he was ticketed for speeding and a passenger in his car was cited for marijuana possession. Gordon is scheduled to appear in Berea Municipal Court on Wednesday.
Browns first-year coach Mike Pettine believes the uncertainty is weighing on Gordon. It has to be.
“I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t,” Pettine said. “It would be human nature.”
Gordon politely declined an interview request.
He entered the league with a history of substance-abuse issues. Gordon is known to have failed at least three drug tests in college, but the Browns were willing to overlook his past when they selected him in the second round of the supplemental draft in 2012.
His risky behavior has jeopardized his career, but the Browns insist they will stick by him.
Pettine acknowledged some frustration in not knowing Gordon’s status.
“Until we hear from the league, we’re going to be business as usual,” he said. “At this point, there is nothing to act on. Everyone can sense the frustration, and it’s a difficult thing. But until it happens, we have a plan in place for all eventualities but we’re still in a holding pattern.”
While the Browns wait, Pettine said Gordon has not let the uncertainty affect his performance.
“He comes out and works hard, puts in a day’s work, solid in the classroom,” Pettine said. “When he’s in the building, he’s been solid. It’s not the first guy in the league to be like that where when he’s in the building he’s great and has some issues, for whatever reason due to circumstances, when he’s out of the building. I’m not a stranger to situations like that.”
The Browns signed Burleson, a 12-year veteran, as a free agent to provide leadership to Cleveland’s group of young receivers. Burleson hasn’t spoken with Gordon specifically about his situation, but has been providing any support he can.
“I just do the same thing I was doing before the news came out,” Burleson said. “Help motivate him, him and the other guys. I’m here as a guy who, one, can show young guys how to be a professional athlete on and off the field and two, try to motivate them in different ways.
“He’s so gifted and so talented that it’s hard to coach greatness. It’s hard to motivate greatness.”
Burleson played with Randy Moss in Minnesota and Calvin Johnson in Detroit. He knows what a superstar wide receiver looks like and believes Gordon has what it takes to be one of the best. Like everyone associated with the Browns, Burleson is eager for a positive outcome for Gordon.
“That type of talent you want on the field, whether it’s at practice or game day,” Burleson. “You only get so many guys every few years that redefine the position and he’s one of those guys. He’s not your traditional receiver. There’s Calvin and there’s Randy, these guys were hit with that special stick and God blessed them with attributes you can only create in video games.
“For him to miss any time, it’s a loss for everybody in general, fans especially. The hope is that he’s on the field.”
Pettine believes the Browns have a good support system in place to help Gordon, and the league has been proactive in helping troubled players.
However, there’s a shared responsibility.
“There has to be a willingness on the other side,” he said. “Sometimes they get the message and it’s too late. In all my time in the league, there’s always going to be a handful of guys that just don’t get it.”
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