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The Josh Gordon Project turns a corner

Aug 28, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Exciting news: Not all was bad from the Browns Friday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. The putrid play of the offensive line did not derail another day of measurable growth for young receiver Josh Gordon.

I have maintained that Gordon is one of the top three important players of this Browns season. The others are quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson. They are obvious choices.

Gordon is in the same discussion because without him, the Browns’ receiving corps is bland and unspectacular. As young and as raw as Gordon is, his physical skills give the Browns a chance to field their own A.J. Green or Julio Jones. Until they have that kind of play-making receiver, they will continue to score under 20 points a game.

That’s why it was exciting to hear Weeden say after the game, “I think where (Gordon has) come from Day One to where he is now, I think he’s come the most of anyone on this football team. I’m really happy with Josh.”

The confidence-booster: Remember that Gordon -- 21 years, 4 ½ months old – is the youngest player on the roster. He’s two years younger than Greg Little. He is also by far the least experienced. He didn’t play since his sophomore season at Baylor in 2010.  

So when he lines up against Nnamdi Asomugha and beats the long, lanky veteran Pro Bowl cornerback in tight coverage for a 28-yard catch, it is a very good sign.

“Definitely so,” Gordon said. “It was a little strange, but the first play of the game they called it and I had no choice but to get warmed up. I’m like, ‘This is the real deal.’”

Gordon had another catch of 10 yards and a third for 12 and a first down on third-and-10. Weeden said he told Gordon in the huddle that he had to beat his man to get the team out of a hole from its 2-yard line, and he did.

“The confidence between the two of us is growing,” Weeden said. “I’ll tell you, he’s hungry, he’s playing hungry. He’s excited to work every day and really grinding to get better.”

After going 0-for-3 in his preseason debut, Gordon has caught 2 of 5 and 3 of 4 from Weeden. He is averaging 17.6 yards on his five catches.

 “I’ve seen huge improvement,” said coach Pat Shurmur. “I’ve mentioned this, the steady climb theory. Early on, he had to get himself in playing shape. He had to learn the offense. He had to get used to the quarterbacks that were throwing to him. He had to get used to being coached.

“That’s a little bit of a process, too, when we’re riding him. You’ve got to get used to that. When you think you’re a pretty good player and you have to deal with lots of coachable moments, which I thought he did fine, and as it all starts to come together, then you see a guy that’s got very good skill and ability start to make plays.”

Full speed ahead:There was a period in training camp when Gordon looked lost, overwhelmed by the physical and mental challenges he was thrust into by the Browns’ mandate to fast-track him. Shurmur insisted that Gordon just had to work through it. And he has.

“I think I have turned the corner,” Gordon said. “Coaches have been getting on me about the way I practice. So I took that to heart to make sure I keep on getting consistent work at practice to get consistently better. I feel it’s benefitted me a lot by listening to them.”

I find Gordon to be one of the more compelling personalities the Browns have employed in their expansion era. He is so young, yet his athletic skills are off the charts.

If they can harness them, as they appear to be doing, Gordon can be a piece of the puzzle that has been missing for decades.

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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