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Opportunity is knocking for Josh Gordon, the youngest player on the NFL's youngest team

Oct 05, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Time to grow up: After the Browns mortgaged their No. 2 pick in 2013 in the July supplemental draft on wide receiver Josh Gordon, I labeled him one of the three most important players on the team.

There’s Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Gordon.

What did Gordon do to earn the company of the Browns’ first-round quarterback and franchise running back?

My feeling was Gordon was the only wideout on the roster with the requisite physical skills to fill the role of a true No. 1 receiver. Without an outside threat to earn the respect of defenses, Richardson would have little room to run and Weeden’s growth would be stunted. He had nobody to throw to.

In the NFL, a pair of threes doesn’t win many hands. But three of a kind gives you a chance.

The Browns’ receiver situation has unfolded rather predictably. Greg Little has committed at least four drops – two of them costing the team touchdowns. Little, frankly, is killing the offense. Mohamed Massaquoi hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Neither has the fast but frail Travis Benjamin. Josh Cribbs has been relegated to special teams and an occasional foray on offense.

Obviously, it was unrealistic to expect Gordon to contribute so early in his pro career. At 21, he is the youngest player on the NFL’s youngest roster. Until this year, he hadn’t played since 2010 as a sophomore at Baylor. His eyeballs nearly popped out of their sockets when he saw Pro Bowl cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie in his first game.

“It was definitely an awestruck feeling towards lot of guys out there,” Gordon said. “But now I don’t feel the same. We’ve played the best of the best. So at this point, I’m really looking past that.”

Progress seen: Through four games, Gordon has looked lost at times. He has been targeted 14 times and has seven catches for 93 yards. He has at least two drops. Gordon has had trouble escaping jams at the line of scrimmage, does not “sell” his routes well enough, rounds them off too many times, and so far hasn’t played to his premier size (6-3 and 225 pounds).

But the coaches are talking him up in this hour of need.

“Josh is learning. Every practice, every game opportunity he’s learning something new. He just needs to continue to learn. I think he’ll find a way to be productive here soon,” Pat Shurmur said.

“I thought he had his best practice as a professional (Wednesday),” said coordinator Brad Childress.

"I didn't see any hesitation. I didn't see him thinking about anything. I saw him playing fast, catching the football, doing all of the things that you expect to see from a professional receiver."

In training camp, Weeden was fascinated with Gordon’s physical skills. He needs Gordon to take the next step.

“In Week 1, I think his head was spinning a little bit,” Weeden said. “I’ve had several talks with him, just kind of what I expect, what the coaches expect. He’s a guy that’s going to have to go out and make plays. He’s a mismatch out there. He’s got all the tools.”

Opportunity knocking: Nobody knows when a young player is ready to break out.

“Different people's light comes on at different times,” Childress said.

 Gordon knows the opportunity is there for him. Massaquoi (hamstring) and Benjamin (hamstring) haven’t practiced all week. Cribbs is coming off a concussion. Slot receiver Jordan Norwood had three drops in his first game active in Baltimore. Weeden and Richardson desperately need a receiver to step up.

 “With each game, I feel more comfortable from seeing different teams, different defenses,” Gordon said. “I don’t really feel as much as a rookie any more. I’m more familiar with it.

“With the reps I’ve been given, I feel I’ve been open but it’s not been the primary read. They have plays designed for me and I feel going into the next week and future games we’ll see a lot more of it.”

The Browns have fast-tracked Gordon to this point. It’s time to make him Weeden’s first read and throw him the ball. What exactly do they have to lose?

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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