Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Takeaways from Browns practice and interviews …
1. Flash is ready: After his first week of practice in over 400 days, Josh Gordon says he’s ready to go – ready to play in a game, ready to run in Hue Jackson’s offense. Though he’s not eligible to be activated until Monday and can’t appear in a game until next Sunday, he has felt no rust at practice, and no negativity off the field, just joy. “It’s been awesome. It’s been a joy. It’s been fun. It’s been exciting,” Gordon said Friday. “I think I knocked that rust off prior to getting back to the building. I think I accomplished that. First day of practice, [I was] able to adjust pretty quickly.” Gordon’s accelerated return to the field is a product of working out relentlessly during his indefinite NFL suspension, his exposure to Jackson’s offensive system a few weeks in the 2016 preseason, and the support he has felt by the organization since being conditionally reinstated on Nov. 1. “I do love this environment, these guys here, these coaches here,” Gordon said. “Top to bottom, it’s just been an all-around conducive environment to what I’m trying to do. There hasn’t been any type of negativity, any type of energy being sucked out of the room. I’m in a good mental space for me, so I think that allows for the rest of it to be kind of secondary. It’s all good right now.” Gordon said that he just has to “fine-tune” some things in his game and develop some quick chemistry with strong-armed quarterback Deshone Kizer. Sufficiently humbled by his dealings with substance abuse, Gordon is not considering himself the man to save the Browns from a winless season. “I really hope they can get it done this week [in Cincinnati],” he said. “I’ll be on the sideline rooting them on. If it doesn’t happen and it happens the week I’m in, that’s great. If it doesn’t, we’ll continue to fight every week until it’s over to get a win. I don’t think it matters the timing of the win, as long as we get wins.”
2. Sir Duke: By now it has been routinely accepted that Duke Johnson is one of the few potential playmakers on the offense. So why did he barely touch the ball in the close-‘til-the-end Jacksonville game? Johnson’s six touches (runs + receptions) against the Jaguars were his lowest total since Game 1 (two) and his 27 overall snaps were his lowest since Game 8 (22). The explanation given by Kirby Wilson, running backs coach, was that the team’s reduced offensive snaps against Jacksonville (a season-low 55) was the reason. “Sometimes he plays more than the starter because of the two-minute situational football aspect and sometimes he doesn’t,” Wilson said. “Last week, it fell into that cloth of we just didn’t have a lot of offensive snaps early on. We didn’t have a lot of third-down conversions, which leads to more opportunities. I would agree. We would like him on the field as much as possible in all situations because we believe so strongly in him as a player and as a playmaker. That’s up to us, me in particular, to make sure he’s always involved and always has a role in being out on the field at all times or as much as possible.” Wilson is right about something else – Johnson has been on the field for more snaps overall than starter Isaiah Crowell (414 snaps to 383). But Crowell has more touches, 147 to 92.
3. Holiday cheer: It seems ludicrous to shout out any player on an 0-10 team for Pro Bowl consideration, but punter Britton Colquitt is making a case for himself. Colquitt currently ranks fifth in gross punting average (48.9 yards) and 10th in net average (41.4). He has had only one punt go as a touchback and that came against the Jaguars when gunner Ricardo Louis was way-laid by a Jacksonville blocker inside the 10 and the ball bounded into the end zone. “I think quietly, he has had a great year – Pro Bowl,” said Chris Tabor, special teams coach. “I know that is a big term that I used the word Pro Bowl, but at the same time, I do think he is that caliber of player. I think he is a special player.” The problem with Colquitt’s Pro Bowl aspirations is that the four players ahead of him in gross average and six of those ahead of him in net average are AFC punters. However, all are punting indoors or in nicer climates that routinely confront a Cleveland punter. “This is a tough place to punt, and it is going to get tougher,” Tabor said. When I was a selector for the AP All-Pro teams, I immediately disqualified all indoor punters and kickers and those in sunny climes. It’s just an unfair advantage.