By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
The pro’s pro: By now, everybody knows the prototype of the Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner receiver. Bigger, taller, faster, younger. Think Josh Gordon.
Davone Bess is none of that. He’s smaller, shorter, slower, older. So why is he here?
Why did Chudzinski and Turner tell Bess they were fans of his when they traded for him on draft day? And why did CEO Joe Banner, who tosses contract extensions as easily as manhole covers, reward Bess with a three-year extension for $11.5 million with $5.75 million guaranteed?
“I think they had a young group (of receivers) and they wanted to bring some experience into the (meeting) room and kind of share my wisdom and be able to help out any way possible,” Bess told me.
There’s this, too: In five seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Bess averaged 64 catches for 690 yards and 2.5 touchdowns. Of his 321 catches, 130 came on third downs – the second-most in that five-year period to Atlanta Pro Bowler Roddy White. Bess was amazingly consistent under two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and four starting quarterbacks.
After Sunday’s practice, quarterback Brandon Weeden said, “I asked him the other day how many option routes he’s caught in his career and he said a lot. That’s what he brings, that consistency. He is an absolute football player, a pro. I’m glad to have him.”
A man of the year: In 2011, Bess was selected by his teammates as the Miami Dolphins Walter Payton Man-of-the-Year candidate. This honor is not emphasized or appreciated enough by media and fans.
Bess was honored for his Bess Route Foundation, which provided funds and opportunities for underprivileged youth in south Florida. He intends to establish a similar foundation in Cleveland.
“It’s my journey, my story, what I’ve been through,” Bess said. “I feel I’ve been put through my situation to share my story and help others to not make the same mistakes I did when I was young.”
Bess, who grew up in Oakland, CA, was 17 and looking forward to playing football at Oregon State via a full-ride scholarship when his life changed on July 9, 2003. He answered a call from some friends and drove to pick them up. They had stolen bags of laptops, video game machines and DVDs. Bess was the driver when police stopped the car. He was convicted of residential burglary and possession of stolen property, and sentenced to 15 months in a juvenile detention facility.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” Bess said. “It was absolutely out of character. I was just being a good friend, but doing the wrong thing. I knew what I was doing. I didn’t have any part in the actual crimes, but I was an accessory, helping the guys. I owned up to my mistakes. I paid the time. And now I share my stories and the experiences to help others.”
Bess lost the scholarship to Oregon State, but was given a tryout by former NFL coach June Jones at Hawaii when his time was served. He had three good seasons, averaging 95 catches in Jones’ run-and-shoot offense, and left Hawaii a year early because NFL scouts told him he graded as a second-round draft pick. After a pedestrian 4.6 40 time at the NFL combine, he went undrafted.
Bess’ 54 catches in 2008 were the second-most in NFL history for an undrafted rookie.
“We know how hard it is to get into this league,” Bess said. “The biggest thing is finding your niche and staying with your team and making the most of every opportunity.”
Never too late: Bess is the veteran receiver the Browns have needed for three years. In a room full of young players, he warrants instant respect.
“It was a great opportunity for me to come in and be able to share my experience,” Bess said. “You learn a lot the more you play. Fortunately, I was thrown into the fire early on in my career, so I was able to get a lot of experience. Whatever situations come up, any time, I’m able to help and able to fill that void and be a mentor to these guys on and off the field. I’m willing to do so.”
Bess was acquired on April 27. Less than two months later, the Browns learned that Gordon was suspended two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
I asked Bess if he has tried to take the immensely talented Gordon under his wing.
“You’ve got a million people trying to be his big brother and trying to tell him things, so I don’t want to be like everybody else,” Bess said. “At the same time, I offered my number, that opportunity for communication, whatever you need, whenever you want to talk about, something like that. My biggest thing is leading by action.
“A lot of guys hear it all the time, people trying to motivate them to do something, and they hear it so much it becomes like talking to a wall at times. But if you can see somebody doing the right thing and then they emphasize it, the message gets over clearer.”
Bess’ take on Gordon?
“Situations happen. We’re all not perfect. We all make mistakes,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about learning from those mistakes, bouncing back and making the most of the opportunities given.”
Nobody is a better example of that than Davone Bess.
On Sunday, I heard Gordon say of Bess, “We look up to him. He’s all business.”
So there’s hope.
|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 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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