BEREA, Ohio — Hue Jackson doesn’t want to oversell the return of Josh Gordon on Sunday when the Cleveland Browns play the Los Angeles Chargers, but his eyes grow wide every time the wide receiver is mentioned.
“Am I comfortable saying [he will start]? Heck yeah,” Jackson said. “Are you kidding me? Yeah he’s gonna start, right away.”
Will Gordon be on a pitch count?
“Let her rip,” Jackson said. “Pitch count? With this guy? Nooo.”
Jackson also said that getting Gordon back after he was suspended for the past two seasons is like Christmas morning, and he’s “got big plans” for the prodigal wideout.
“You got to play your best players, right?” he said.
“I’m excited as ever,” Gordon said of his return. “I can’t wait, really.”
Gordon has been practicing since Nov. 22. Last week he worked with the scout team, portraying A.J. Green. This week he was with the starters.
“I think I can do everything that’s within my power to do,” Gordon said. “Anything that I’ve done before and anything that I haven’t done, hopefully I can achieve it, really. I think the sky is the limit. I feel that I’m in great shape, you know, and if I can just help out there and try to make a play and try to put us in position to win.”
Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013 with 1,646 while playing 14 games and missing two to suspension. He was suspended 11 games of the 2014 season, and every game of the next two. He has not played in a regular-season game since Dec. 21, 2014. He had been suspended for multiple violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
“There’s a question mark on it,” Gordon said of his comeback. “But I know I expect to do something positive.”
Gordon’s teammates have not been shy about their hopes for him.
“Josh Gordon is 6-4, 227 pounds,” quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “I haven’t played with anyone like him.”
“We were in the cafeteria,” wide receiver Corey Coleman said of seeing Gordon play in 2014 when Coleman was at Baylor, “and we were watching this man play and I was like, ‘Holy s—!’ I’m like, ‘Man, this dude is good.'”
“I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll just go out there like he never left,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said.
Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson was Gordon’s teammate in 2013 and ’14, and Gipson feels Gordon easily can be what he was.
“People might call me naive, but absolutely,” Gipson said Nov. 19 when the Jaguars played in Cleveland. “You look at the guy, you look at his body type, you look at the things he’s able to do … There are certain things, certain positions that you can control. Me as a safety, not tackling somebody for three years, might affect me a little different. Or a QB not throwing or not taking actual hits for three years.
“But a wide receiver, when you’re that physically gifted, it’s man on man. I have no doubt that he’s going to be able to come back. To say he’s going to be Josh Gordon 2013, I don’t know if a healthy Josh Gordon who’s been playing since 2013 can do that. But if there’s anyone who can go out there and do special things, he’s that guy.”
Gordon also addressed the Sports Illustrated story this week that quoted him saying that since high school he had taken part in gang activity, used a gun and dealt marijuana. The story also portrayed Gordon and his business manager as using his story for financial gain.
“He felt the way he felt and he wrote the way he wrote,” Gordon said. “The writer just portrayed us in a light that he felt was conducive to selling his story.”
He admitted it sounded odd “for sure” when he was quoted saying he never shot at anyone “maliciously,” and he avoided answering when asked if he’d ever hurt anyone shooting a gun.
“I haven’t read the whole article,” he said, “but I definitely got to look into it.”
Gordon said he has nothing definite in his future as far as a movie or book about his life, and said he was “just trying to sell my story.”
His story since his reinstatement has had twists and turns. He produced a video for LeBron James’ website Uninterrupted during a three-day break from rehab. He told GQ he took a drug or drank before every NFL game. And the SI story had more revelations that led Jackson to say: “There’s nothing good that comes from those [stories].”
Asked how he would describe his story, Gordon said: “Perseverance story, really more than anything. Glad I was able to bounce back. Overcome it. Defying the odds. It’s the underdog story. That’s all it is. I think it’s something that sells hope to people. It’s realistic. It’s relatable. People want to know about it. Like I said before, if it’s in the right context in the right way, I have no problem telling my story.”