Saturday, February 1, 2014

Josh Gordon: "I'm Just Trying to Learn From the Best"

Josh Gordon was the brightest of the few bright spots in the 4-12 Cleveland Browns' dismal 2013 season; he earned First Team All-Pro honors in just his second year in the league, he led the NFL with 1646 receiving yards--shattering the franchise record of 1289 set by Braylon Edwards in 2007-- and he became the first player in NFL history to post back to back 200-plus yard receiving games. Gordon ranked second in the league with an 18.9 yards per reception average, he tied for 11th in the league with 87 receptions and he tied for 14th in the league with nine receiving touchdowns. Gordon's 95 yard TD reception in Cleveland's 33-28 week 13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was the longest passing play in the league in 2013. Gordon torched Jacksonville for 261 receiving yards on 10 receptions after ransacking Pittsburgh with 14 catches for 237 yards the week before in Cleveland's 27-11 loss to the Steelers; Gordon's 597 total receiving yards in back to back games are the most receiving yards an NFL player has racked up in consecutive contests in league history.

Gordon also played in his first Pro Bowl and he enjoyed the opportunity to get some one on one tutoring from Jerry Rice, who is perhaps the greatest wide receiver--and arguably the greatest player, period--in NFL history. Gordon is bigger, stronger and faster than Rice was in his prime but it is most instructive to watch the video of Rice and Gordon's interactions in order to learn about Rice's mental approach to the game; Rice set up defenders like a chess grandmaster sets up a tactic and Rice was almost always one move ahead of the opposition. After Rice told Gordon that with proper technique Gordon could become unstoppable Gordon expressed appropriate deference, telling Rice, "I'm just trying to learn from the best."

Younger fans may not realize this, but the Cleveland Browns have a long and proud tradition of great receivers/tight ends, dating all the way back to the exploits of Hall of Famer Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie during the team's dominant run in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). Lavelli and Speedie played vital roles on the Browns' four AAFC championship teams (1946-49) before helping the team win the 1950 NFL title after the leagues merged. Cleveland also advanced to the NFL title game in 1951 and 1952 before Speedie retired. Lavelli played until 1956, as the Browns won NFL crowns in 1954 and 1955 after settling for runner up honors in 1953.

Hall of Famer Paul Warfield and Gary Collins teamed up on the Browns' 1964 NFL championship team; that squad remains the last Cleveland team to win a title in the NFL, NBA or MLB. Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome played an integral part in the franchise's revival in the early to mid-1980s and he is still the Browns' career leader with 662 receptions (the all-time record for tight ends when he retired in 1990) and 7980 receiving yards.

Ray Renfro, Milt Morin, Reggie Rucker, Dave Logan, and Webster Slaughter also deserve mention as first rate Cleveland pass catchers; three-time Pro Bowler Renfro played for the Browns' 1954 and 1955 NFL championship teams, two-time Pro Bowler Morin was one of the NFL's top tight ends in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Rucker tied for the AFC lead in 1975 with 60 receptions, Logan was an excellent deep threat who averaged 16.2 yards per reception in his eight seasons with the Browns and Slaughter earned Pro Bowl honors in 1989 after setting a franchise record with 1236 receiving yards.

If Gordon keeps his mind right--he was suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season because he violated the NFL's substance abuse policy--and his body healthy he could eventually own all of the Browns' receiving records.

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