Josh Gordon believes Browns' hope for his return is justified

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns have been down this road before.

Several times.

But they believe this time it will be different, and this is the time when Josh Gordon will return to the field and stay on the field. At least that's the hope, which may be a better word in this situation. The Browns have hope.

"I believe there's good in every man, I really do," general manager John Dorsey said this week as the Browns prepared for Sunday's opener against the Steelers. "And I believe he's trying. I honestly do."

Dorsey acknowledges there is risk involved with taking back a player who has played 10 games since the start of the 2014 season and missed 54 others to NFL and team suspensions. But it's a risk he and the Browns believe is worth taking.

"I wake up every morning and it's a risk," Dorsey said. "When I drive down [the interstate] and I have to get in the fast lane, it's a risk. I'm used to driving 30 miles per hour to work; now I got to get on the highway and go 70 miles per hour. That's a risk."

Gordon's latest return marks the third time since he led the league with 1,646 receiving yards in 2013 that he has returned to the Browns. The longest-tenured Brown (2012) played five games in 2014 and got progressively less productive in each. He spent the 2015 preseason with the Browns and departed shortly before the season began (he was going to be suspended for the first four games regardless). He missed all of 2016, and last season he missed the first 11 games.

In July, he announced he would not be with the Browns to start camp. He wound up returning on Aug. 18 but did not play in the Browns' last two preseason games.

Gordon's announcement that he would be away prompted alarm bells among fans and media that he might be heading to another lengthy departure. The Browns supported him and merely said he'd be back when he was ready. Dorsey now says that absence was a good thing for Gordon and a sign of maturity.

"You and I know addiction is a hard thing to overcome, but I applaud him for taking a mature standpoint and saying, ‘You know what, give me a couple extra weeks here. Just to dial in and understand. I'm going to try to take care of myself and get this season right,'" Dorsey said. "There's a degree of maturity there, and a self-awareness where all of a sudden maybe the light's going on with self-awareness."

Since Gordon's been back, he and Dorsey have sat down face-to-face a few times, conversations that Dorsey said were the best dialogue he's had with Gordon since joining the team in December of 2017.

"He deals with [addiction] on a day-to-day basis," Dorsey said. "I think that's the only way you can deal with it."

The Browns are living on hope with Gordon. Hope that he can stay with the team and on the field. Hope that he can make a difference. And hope that he can be the player he once was.

If the Browns were honest, Gordon has not provided reason to hope. He's been suspended five times since 2013. In the 10 games he's played, the Browns have gone 1-9 and lost nine in a row. And Gordon's breakout season in which he led the league in receiving yards was five years ago.

That has not stopped hope from growing. On the HBO show "Hard Knocks," coach Hue Jackson seemed to track Gordon's every step, telling offensive coordinator Todd Haley that "the bird" had landed in Cleveland when Gordon returned, and telling Dorsey "the fish" was in the building when Gordon started working out with teammates.

Haley and Dorsey had cautious responses – Haley asked whether Gordon was in shape and if he'd been working out -- but Jackson clearly relishes the possibility of a big-play receiver joining his offense, a feeling that probably shouldn't be surprising from a coach who has one win in the last two seasons.

The team has to hope it works; the Browns have little in the way of proven experience behind Gordon and Jarvis Landry.

Jackson said that Gordon will not start against the Steelers, but he will play. The last time Gordon came back was in Game 12 of last season. The Browns threw 13 passes his way, and with more accurate passes, he could have had a 200-yard game.

For his part, Gordon gushed about being back on the practice field, saying it was "really fun," "awesome" and "I loved it."

"It's just great being in the atmosphere," he said.

The "Hard Knocks" camera caught him saying the advice he'd give people is to "love yourself," something he said he had to learn to do.

Gordon said he believes he's more locked in than ever, and he's ready to make a big splash.

"Personal stuff aside, I'm thinking of getting a win," he said. "At the most crucial point of the game, what can I do to put us over the edge if I'm needed?"

In the five games he played last season, Gordon had 18 catches (in 42 targets) for 335 yards and one touchdown. Project that to 16 games and the numbers read this way: 58 catches, 1,072 yards and three touchdowns. In theory, all of the Browns’ receivers should be better this season with a veteran at quarterback in Tyrod Taylor.

But they clearly hope that Gordon (and Landry) can provide the big plays and talent that have been missing at the receiver position the past couple of seasons.

They are living on hope. To Gordon, the hope is justified.

"It's a collection of things," Gordon said. "I can't pick just one specific thing, but just having a healthy balance of things inside of here, knowing what I do here and off the field, knowing what I want to gain from it.

"Prioritizing that over everything else kind of takes care of itself and it feels good -- real good."