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Browns' Josh Gordon returns to practice: 'I'm confident in my abilities'

BEREA, Ohio -- Josh Gordon's return to the Cleveland Browns' practice field was not exactly stressful.

Gordon did not take part in any team drills and participated only in the initial individual work, catching passes without defenders.

After practice, coach Hue Jackson said Gordon will not play in the preseason game Thursday night against Atlanta. That didn't stop Gordon from vowing he can be the same guy he was in 2013 when he led the NFL in receiving yards while playing 14 games.

"I'm definitely the same guy," he said Monday. "I'm confident in my abilities. I know what I can do. Just given the opportunity and the right timing, right position and the relying on the rest of the team as much as they rely on me, it's a great boost of motivation, and anything is possible for anybody.

"But I definitely am aware of what I can do, and I think I can build upon that and do even better."

Lofty words from a guy who went through his first practice since Dec. 26, 2014, on Monday. On Dec. 27, Gordon missed the final walk-through before the 2014 season finale and was suspended. A few months later, he was suspended for the entire 2015 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

That's 600 days without practicing, a long time for anyone. And it has many wondering what kind of player Gordon will be, including his teammates.

"I'll be tuning in just like you guys will," wide receiver Andrew Hawkins said. "Josh is an incredible talent. He has incredible ability. I don't know if I'd be able to sit out two years and come back at a high level. I'm not going to count that out of Josh because I'm not the freakish athlete like Josh is."

Gordon faces a four-game suspension at the start of the 2016 regular season, but the NFL is allowing him to participate in team activities during the ban.

Jackson and Art Briles, Gordon's college coach at Baylor, both said Gordon had to lose weight. In practice, he looked a little thick around the middle but did not look to be in bad shape, either. He's listed at 225 pounds.

"I kind of set my own goal in my head of what I used to play at," Gordon said. "But I feel just as strong, just as fast as I felt before, if not stronger, if not faster. So we'll see how my production is, and we'll go from there once they evaluate and get some stuff on film. I'll be able to tell how I feel."

Gordon's biggest challenge is getting back into the physical elements of the game. The daily grind, the hitting, the competition, the physical challenge. Coaches always say that training is not the same as football training. Gordon has been training, but he has been away from the game for almost 20 months.

Which is why Jackson won't force anything. He said the team will continue to work its "process." Jackson must balance preparing Gordon and getting him in shape with the realization that Gordon will be suspended the first four games.