Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
One of a series previewing Browns position groups leading up to the start of training camp …
Analysis: Rightfully maligned for about 10 years, this position group is poised to become an asset rather than a liability.
Consider the top three:
* Josh Gordon: Mentally healthier than he ever has been in his star-crossed career, and a physical freak more than ever at age 27, he is determined to not only reclaim his status as an elite receiver but also to pay back the organization that stood by him while suspended for 54 of the team’s last 64 games.
* Jarvis Landry: After averaging 100 receptions in his first four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, he was traded to the Browns and then signed to a $75 million contract that makes him the fifth-highest paid receiver in the league, based on yearly average. Typecast as an underneath slot receiver with a puny yards-per-catch average, he wants to gain the respect more freely given his friend and former college teammate Odell Beckham Jr. as a stupendous catcher of the ball and playmaker.
* Corey Coleman: The 15th overall pick of the 2016 draft, his flashes as a playmaker have been scarce. No longer entitled as the team’s No. 1 receiver, he has been humbled by two seasons of unmet expectations, two broken hand injuries, an historic dropped pass and a demotion to No. 3 in the receivers room.
All of which prompted Gordon to croon in June, “I think we’re the best receiving corps in the league, in my opinion, already.”
“He ain’t lyin’,” responded Landry.
Let us pause.
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley, late of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a man who surely knows an elite receiving corps when he sees one, offered words of caution.
“I am a big ‘go by what I see’ guy,” Haley said in June. “[Gordon] can have an opinion, and I am happy he does, but I think that remains to be seen. We have some potential, I know that. But we have a lot of work to do in all areas, that group included.”
In a way, this group personifies the Browns as a whole entering training camp.
There is justifiable optimism and loftier expectations than have been felt in years. Yet there are issues that can derail the bandwagon.
Gordon has not stayed eligible for more than five games in five years because of serial substance abuse violations. Another violation – a mere missed test -- would banish him to another “indefinite suspension” and probably throw topsoil, finally, on his NFL career.
Coleman has not spoken publicly since Dec. 31, the day his epic drop in the final minute in Pittsburgh's Heinz Field secured an 0-16 season. GM John Dorsey has nothing invested in Coleman and tried to unload him, per a source, but found no takers.
“He understands this is a big, big year in his career,” Haley said. “Year 3 is usually the make-or-break year of what kind of [player] you are going to be. I have made that clear to him.”
Meantime, Dorsey did take a chance on a possible replacement for Coleman, Antonio Callaway, an exciting, athletic marvel whom Dorsey dubbed the first or second-best receiver in the 2018 draft.
Callaway arrives via the college football cesspool at the University of Florida, where he piled up a laundry list of character issues, including a season-long suspension in 2017 for allegedly using a stolen credit card. Needing to revive his reputation in the pre-draft season, Callaway promptly flunked a drug test at the NFL Combine.
No worries. Dorsey drafted him in the fourth round because of Callaway’s talent and “because we have all kinds of resources” to develop him as a player and man. Callaway is a low-risk, high-reward draft choice who at best displaces Coleman and doubles as a punt returner.
Landry is the only proven, dependable performer on and off the field.
Since joining the Browns in March, Landry has provided “the juice” to energize a position group lacking talent, professionalism and confidence for nearly a decade.
“The things that Josh can do and Corey can do … we have a young cat coming up as well, Callaway … we are just really showing a lot of flashes,” Landry said in the sunshine of June. “I think the capability of what we all can do is endless.”
And then he added a sentence that was ominously so true.
“We can only, obviously, beat ourselves at this point,” Landry said.
Strengths: A bona fide, No. 1. Physically elite receiver in Gordon. A dependable, professional, producer in Landry.
1. Can Gordon stay eligible?
2. Can Callaway stay eligible?
3. How will Coleman respond to the humiliation of his historic drop, his demotion and being put on notice by the new regime?