By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
The company you keep: Ozzie Newsome never had a game like Jordan Cameron did Sunday in Minnesota.
Three touchdown catches. One on a sleight-of-hand sleeper play. Another for the game-winner with 51 seconds left. On the road. To save another Browns season from slipping away.
For a tight end, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Oh, Steve Heiden had three TD catches once. Those came in that 58-48 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2004 – the second-highest scoring game in NFL history. Perhaps with a premonition of the bizarre to come, Butch Davis OD’d on Cuban coffee before the game and had a panic attack. True story. It was his last game as Browns coach.
Braylon Edwards had three TD catches in a 41-31 laugher over Miami in 2007. That was when Rob Chudzinski last had it rolling as Browns coordinator.
Eric Metcalf had three TD catches in Los Angeles against the Raiders in 1992. I recall Bill Belichick bear-hugging him snugly on the sidelines and Metcalf grimacing. Uncomfortable.
Gary Collins had three TD catches twice. The second time came in the 1964 NFL Championship Game against the Baltimore Colts – Cleveland’s last major team championship. That is the all-timer among the nine times a Browns player has caught three TDs. Sadly, Collins never seemed to enjoy the achievement. “It’s all I’m known for,” he once grumbled to me.
Cameron had only two TDs in 24 career NFL games prior to Sunday.
“I haven’t had time to think about (the record),” he said. “It is pretty cool reading who’s done it. I’m just happy we got the win.”
Piling up numbers: The fantasy league players who took a flier on Cameron excelling in the Norv Turner offense – no matter who was throwing the ball – know the numbers.
* Through three games, Jordan is seventh in the NFL in receptions (20), 11th in receiving yards (269) and tied for second in touchdowns (four).
* Among tight ends, he is second in catches and yards, and first in touchdowns.
* Cameron is also the only player in the NFL this season to catch a touchdown from three different throwers – Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and, um, Spencer Lanning.
In his third season, Cameron is realizing the potential seen in him by former GM Tom Heckert, who made him a fourth-round pick in 2011 despite a college career total of 16 catches in three years at USC after transferring from Brigham Young.
“I’m just trying to be a playmaker for this team,” Cameron said. “It’s not one of those things (where) I was going to have any judgments on myself for the season. I just wanted to be a guy this team could count on, be reliable.”
When Heckert drafted Cameron, the knock on him was that he was a pretty boy softie. A converted basketball player, Cameron posted fantastic test results at the NFL combine. But skeptics said he wouldn’t withstand the rigors of the physically demanding position of NFL tight end.
And for two seasons, the skeptics appeared right. Cameron suffered muscle pulls and strains in practice and games. He missed the last two games of his second season with a concussion. He ended the final minicamp this year with a hamstring pull.
Fully aware the coaches counted on him to fill the role of a playmaker in their offense, Cameron retreated to southern California to train to prevent further injuries.
So look at him now.
“It feels good,” Cameron said. “I’ve been working for so long it seems like forever. I’ve been very patient. I just put my head down and kept grinding every day. Just trying to focus on the little things.
“Sometimes you get caught up in hearing everyone else saying, ‘You’re not going to make it. You’re not good enough. You’re just a basketball player. You’re not athletic enough.” I haven’t made it by all means. I have a lot of work to do. I’ve got to keep progressing each week. But it’s just one of those things that I’m just happy it’s paid off and I was there for my teammates when we won the game.”
Posting up: Cameron first attended BYU on a basketball scholarship. After he transferred to USC, he walked on to its basketball team and played in three games.
Now he’s the latest in the growing list of ex-roundballers prospering as NFL tight ends, following the standard-bearers Antonio Gates of San Diego and Jimmy Graham of New Orleans. Another, Denver’s Julius Thomas, was taken 27 picks after Cameron in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.
“Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about basketball,” Cameron said. “I’m not a basketball player. I’m a football player now. I guess it helps for these tight ends, nowadays, to be from basketball backgrounds, but I don’t want to be known as a basketball player.”
When he made the plays Sunday to win a football game, Cameron forever laid to rest the doubts about him. His decision to pursue a football career was a slam dunk.
|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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