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Josh Gordon's addition could end Mohamed Massaquoi's days as an unchallenged starter

Jul 13, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Where the dominoes fall: New Browns receiver Josh Gordon wore jersey No. 12 at Baylor. Colt McCoy wears it here, for now.

But the player perhaps most affected by the bold acquisition of Gordon in the NFL supplemental draft is No. 11, receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

Months before most anyone ever heard of Gordon, before the strapping receiver even thought of petitioning for the supplemental draft, Massaquoi was put on notice by President Mike Holmgren. Holmgren’s message then was that Massaquoi had to step up and be the player they needed him to be.

At the time, the Browns had struck out in upgrading the receiver position notably.

They swung and missed at veteran free agents Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan – each signing with Washington. They watched Tennessee scoop up Baylor’s Kendall Wright with the 20th pick of the first round. They eschewed receivers available in the second round – Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery, Ryan Broyles and Rueben Randle – to take right tackle Mitchell Schwartz with the No. 37 pick.

By the time the Browns convened for their minicamps, the only additions at receiver were fourth-round pick Travis Benjamin and undrafted free agent Josh Cooper.

Out of necessity, Massaquoi was again bequeathed a starting spot opposite presumed No. 1 Greg Little.

In his three seasons in Cleveland, Massaquoi has started 38 games. His season reception totals: 34, 36 and 31. And the odd thing is, he never has really beaten out anyone for the job. There just hasn’t been anyone better. That situation has just changed.

Getting Gordon up to speed: Because he transferred from Baylor and sat out the 2011 season at Utah, Gordon hasn’t played since his sophomore season in 2010. He practiced all 2011 with the Utes in anticipation of completing his final year of college eligibility. Financial pressures of his family caused him to make a last-minute decision to enter the supplemental draft.

So he has missed all of the Browns’ offseason program and minicamps and will hit the ground running at training camp in two weeks.

It may be a stretch to think that Gordon can assimilate into the Browns system quickly enough to compete for a starting job. But GM Tom Heckert certainly holds that expectation.

No receiver on the Browns’ roster has the elite physical skills Gordon possesses. At 6-3 1/8 and 225 pounds, with long arms and huge hands, exceptional leaping ability and good speed for a big man, Gordon has all the tools of the prototypical No. 1 wideout. Athletically and physically, think Andre Johnson, A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

“When you guys see him, that will be your first clue,” Heckert said.

Sizing up the receiver situation:Little survived a rocky rookie season pre-empted by a final-year college suspension and an NFL spring canceled by the owners lockout. He lost 15 pounds prior to his second season and appears determined to solve his drop problems. He enters training camp as the No. 1 receiver.

Massaquoi enters camp as the No. 2, but he will have to produce immediately to keep it until Gordon figures things out.

Everything coach Pat Shurmur has said indicates a desire to return Josh Cribbs full time to his integral special teams roles. The coaches seem intent on incorporating Cribbs into the offense as a specialty player so as not to overload him.

The slot receiver battle will come down to incumbent Jordan Norwood and Cooper.

Benjamin, who has the most speed, and Carlton Mitchell, who has good size but no production in two seasons, enter camp as backup candidates.

Add them up: Gordon, Little, Massaquoi, Cribbs, Norwood, Cooper, Benjamin, Mitchell. That’s eight receivers right there. The loser of the Norwood-Cooper battle shrinks the pool to seven.

The sixth spot may well come down to two survivors from a battle among Massaquoi, Benjamin and Mitchell. And of those three, Massaquoi is the only one who wasn’t drafted by Heckert.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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