Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon -- returning from a 10-game suspension for failing a league drug test -- will line up for 20 to 30 plays against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Gordon spent the last 11 weeks working out on his own and catching passes from a jugs machine. He could attend team meetings but couldn't participate in on-field team activities.
He practiced with the Browns this week for the first time since August. Quarterback Brian Hoyer said he worked with Gordon individually after practice during the week to catch up on routes the two might use in Atlanta on Sunday.
Gordon averaged 117.6 receiving yards per game last season, which means the Browns inherit a high-performance vehicle at a critical time in the team's playoff push at 6-4.
"I think it makes things easier," Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "It gives you different options."
"Life is great right now," Gordon said earlier this week. "I can't complain about anything. I'm blessed to be in the position I'm in. I'm not mad either way."
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com contributed to this report.
"I think it makes things easier," Shanahan said. "It gives you different options."
Shanahan was the coordinator when Andre Johnson (Houston) and Pierre Garcon (Washington) had big seasons. Last season under Shanahan, Garcon had 113 receptions for 1,346 yards.
"I never forced Andre the ball, never forced it to Pierre last year," Shanahan said. "Kind of just happens naturally."
In other matters Browns related:
- It's worth remembering that the Falcons have significant offensive potential. Julio Jones and Roddy White are as good a tandem as the league, and Matt Ryan is having an excellent season. This game, played indoors, could produce a lot of points.
- Shanahan on the way the rookie backs have been handling the blitz pickups and pass routes: "Up and down."
- Glenn Winston was put on the roster to replace Ben Tate. On Wednesday, Winston said he one rep at running back. "More than I've had before," he said with a smile.
- Pettine said the impact of Tate's personality and attitude had a little bit to do with his release, but attributing it to that solely was overestimating things.
- Tate was a unique guy. In a group setting, he'd answer a question and be friendly. He got very testy, though, when he felt words were put in his mouth. It was always impossible to read what kind of mood he was in. The day LeBron James returned to Cleveland in the Cavs opener, a bunch of players were going to the game. Tate had talked about playing and liking basketball, so I asked if he was going to the game. "What game?" he snapped.
- Per ESPN Stats & Information, no receiver has averaged more per reception since 2012 than Gordon's 17.9 yards. He tops Torrey Smith, DeSean Jackson and Calvin Johnson.
- The Browns averaged 146. 4 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry with Alex Mack, but 77.2 per game and 2.4 per carry since Mack was hurt.
They were rookies before he came.
"He doesn't look at us as rookies anymore," Crowell said. "[He said] we just have to go out there and make plays."
The Browns feel they've created more synergy with a true two-back system with two rookies that are friends and competitors. Tate's old reps are available. The Browns are hoping the players complement each othre. Both are expected to have set packages ready for the Atlanta Falcons.
"It's their show now," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said.
Crowell might still have the slight edge on the No. 1 job because they believe his fumbling problems are easily correctable (stop switching the ball from one hand to the other in traffic) and his 61 yards on 14 carries last week was respectable. But West has been known to insert himself, carrying the ball a combined 41 times in Weeks 9-10 after a minimal role the previous weeks.
The Browns know playing two rookies poses challenges -- hint: has nothing to do with running the ball -- but they've improved in their blitz pickups since the beginning of the year.
The Browns wouldn't have cut Tate if they didn't think these two were ready.
"Me and Terrance, we're still learning, we're still working," Crowell said. "I feel like we've got what it takes."
So far it’s been viewed from the on-field perspective, what Gordon can bring as a player. But Gordon has this opportunity in part because the Cleveland Browns stood by him.
The Browns easily could have gotten fed up and released Gordon, especially after his DUI arrest in the offseason that followed news of his failed drug test, which followed a 2013 season when he was suspended for the first two games. Hall of Famer Cris Carter was crying out that Gordon needed to be released.
The Browns never wavered, though. They challenged Gordon privately and publicly, but stood by him for months. He took part in training camp, played in preseason games and practiced with his teammates -- with the team well aware Gordon might lose a significant part, if not all, of the season while his case was being appealed.
They kept him around, tried to set up a program to help him.
At this point, Gordon owes not just something to himself and his team on his return, but also to his organization.
He conceded as much during his media gaggle Wednesday.
“There are a lot of people that I feel I owe that to: family members, friends, people that felt more embarrassed about it than the city of Cleveland,” he said. “As much as they are, the people close to me feel it harder than anybody. I feel as though I owe them, as well as the Browns.”
The way he’d like to repay the faith?
“By performing well,” Gordon said.
That means being himself. It was actually good to hear him say he wouldn’t put forth any extra effort or something inane like that. Because doing so implies he wasn’t doing his best in the past.
If Gordon goes out and is himself, he’ll be doing just fine (understatement alert).
And if he’s just fine, he’ll be remembering what the team did for him, and paying things forward.
It was the first time Cameron practiced at all since he was sidelined with a concussion Oct. 26. He will not play Sunday when the Browns go to Atlanta, but coach Mike Pettine said the team hoped to have him the following Sunday against Buffalo.
That concussion was the result of a violent hit Cameron took to the back of the head from Oakland safety Brandian Ross, and it raised concerns because it was Cameron's third concussion in three years.
"If I felt that my future was in jeopardy, I wouldn't have come back," Cameron said.
As Cameron spoke, a portrait of his 5-year-old son Tristan hung in his locker behind him. Cameron admitted the past month has been tough, and he spent a long time talking to two doctors, a team doctor and a league-appointed independent neurologist about his prognosis, long- and short-term.
"They looked at my situation with detail," Cameron said. "I trust what they're saying is what it is. Like I said, if I didn't feel comfortable playing, I wouldn't be out here, knowing I have a son who is obviously a big part of my life. Those are the things you think about, but after I talked to these neurologists, I feel a lot better about the situation."
Cameron did not think the concussion issue would affect his upcoming free-agent status; his contract expires after the season.
"It's not like I'm a fragile person," he said. "It's not like I take a little hit and I get a concussion. I've taken some stuff that's serious, and if anyone was in this situation, they'd get a concussion."
Cameron also detailed what the doctors told him.
According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan, the six-year pro has an escalator in his contract once he hits a snap threshold.
Here's more from Caplan:
Hoyer will earn an additional $2.05 million this season if he handles at least 70 percent of the offensive snaps, a league source told ESPN.Hoyer
Hoyer has taken all but five of the offensive snaps (684 out of 689) through the team's first 10 games. Rookie QB Johnny Manziel handled the other snaps.
If Hoyer handles all of the offensive snaps on the road this week against the Atlanta Falcons and just a minimal amount during next Sunday's game against the host Buffalo Bills, he'll hit the 70 percent number.
In addition to his $1 million base salary, Hoyer earned a $250,000 roster bonus, which brings his total compensation to $1.25 million. Because he was on the opening day roster, Hoyer's base salary, as a vested veteran, became fully guaranteed.
This doesn't push Hoyer into starters-money category, but it gets him closer to a high-end backup clip. Neither amount will deter him from trying to get much more as a free agent in March, perhaps forcing the Browns to decide between a reliable starter or first-round pick Johnny Manziel.
Maybe the Browns will strike a comfortable bridge deal that compensates Hoyer but still keeps hope alive for Manziel as a long-term option. There's always the franchise tag, worth around $18 million for quarterbacks.
Until that decision, Hoyer gets a little extra cash to spend.
The Browns face one of the best passing games in the league on Sunday. Matt Ryan is fifth in the league with 2,793 yards and tied for 11th with 17 touchdowns. The Falcons average 285 yards per game passing, and Julio Jones is eighth overall with 912 yards receiving while Roddy White has five touchdowns.
Injuries on defense mean the Browns may have to think about ways to score more points. That is the benefit of adding Josh Gordon. One of the league's most talented receivers faces a pass defense that is last in the league, giving up 281 yards per game.
The Browns may have to outscore the Falcons to win, so it's perfect to have their playmaker return for this game. Gordon steps in and picks up from last season and combines with Brian Hoyer to lead the Browns to a big road win.
It just so happened to be made by the team’s punter, Spencer Lanning.
“I can tell you what, that was one of the better plays I’ve seen by a punter,” coach Mike Pettine said.
They weren’t alone. Lanning’s teammates in the locker room were all pointing it out, with Ryan Seymour demanding it was worth a story.
He was right.
On fourth-and-17 from the Browns 35, Christian Yount lost control of a snap and sailed it well over Lanning’s head. Lanning stood at the 20, leaped and managed to get one hand on the wayward snap to slow it down. The ball landed at the 15.
He turned, got a good bounce and ran the ball down at the 13. After grabbing the ball Lanning turned and arced back upfield to his left -- against his kicking foot.
“My biggest fear when I opened up with the ball was I was going to get teed off on,” Lanning said. “I didn’t know if they were going to be blitzing or if they were going to be in holdup.
“When I rolled out there was a moment when I said, ‘Am I gong to throw it, no? Am I going to hit it left footed? No. So all right, well I’ll get around enough to hit it right-footed.’”
At the last second, he maneuvered the ball parallel to the yard-lines and kicked with his right foot at about the 13. The ball went under Jonathan Grimes' hands officially for 22 yards, but Lanning provided a how’d-he-do-that moment by punting right-footed, turning the ball, going left on the run -- and booting the ball 44 yards in the air.
“I didn’t think that it was humanly possible to be running full speed one direction, running left and kick it right,” Pettine said.
Lanning told Tabor on the sidelines: “That’s one of those things that are hard to practice.”
The play showed Lanning’s athletic ability, something that can be taken for granted with kickers and punters. Phil Dawson used to say he was a football player who kicked. Lanning, much like former punter Chris Gardocki, is an effective, athletic punter.
“I think that’s the thing about that young man that gets understated a little bit," Tabor said. “Everyone just always looks at numbers. He’s a crafty guy that plays well in weather games, and he never flinches.”
Lanning has a 38.8-yard net per kick this season, but teams are averaging just 6.6 yards per return on his punts -- sixth-lowest in the league. Thirty-three of his 57 punts have been downed inside the 20 or fair-caught.
And this kick he made on the run against Houston went out of bounds without a return.
“I hope I don’t ever have to do it again,” Lanning said. “But at least I know I can sort of pull it off.”
Here are the main takeaways:
Decision by Friday morning: The Bills have yet to hear from the NFL on a location and a date for game. Brandon said he hopes to hear from NFL tonight, or at tomorrow morning by the latest. "We don't really have a say, but we have a voice," Brandon said. "When I know it, you guys will know it. I want to put this behind me as well." Word could come down as soon as Thursday night.
No official word on alternate sites: Brandon did not pass along which sites were being considered by the NFL. Asked about Toronto as a possible site, Brandon said, "I'm sure that was a consideration by the league." He added there were no "in-depth conversations" about using Syracuse's Carrier Dome.
Ticket refunds: Everyone who bought a ticket through the Bills for Sunday's game will receive a refund. There's no definitive word on how ticketing will work for the alternate game. "We're going to do everything we can to encourage fans to come to the neutral site location and be part of the experience," Brandon said.
Bills could travel early: If possible, Bills want to fly to the alternate site as early as Friday and practice. They're "not in situation" to practice at their regular facility Friday, according to Brandon. However, the logistics of getting players to the airport is the problem. "We've had a lot of brainstorming sessions," Brandon said. He added that 85 percent of the players live in the affected area. "A lot of guys are in apartment complexes that aren't plowed in any shape or form," Brandon said.
Eye towards next week: With so much snow dumped on the area and efforts needed elsewhere, Brandon said pushing the game to Monday or Tuesday at Ralph Wilson Stadium "really wasn't an option." While he didn't know if the NFL has engaged in discussions about moving the Bills' Nov. 30 game against the Cleveland Browns to another site, Brandon said the team will need to move quickly to clear the stadium in time for that game. "It's going to be an all hands on deck exercise for our staff," Brandon said. The Bills are considering practicing elsewhere next week.
And then it all started again Thursday morning.
The Buffalo Bills were scheduled to host games in Orchard Park, New York, the next two weekends: Sunday against the New York Jets and Nov. 30 against the Cleveland Browns. The Jets game will be moved to another location and the same might happen for the Browns game. The following photos taken Thursday at Ralph Wilson Stadium illustrate why.
But considering Gordon's history and the yardage the Falcons have allowed this season, perhaps Haden isn’t that far off, right? Gordon set an NFL record with back-to-back 200-yard games last season. The Falcons are last in the league with 281.2 passing yards allowed per game. Seven receivers have enjoyed 100-yard games this season against Atlanta, which also happens to be dead last in total defense.
Here’s a sample of receivers’ big gains against Atlanta this season.
- Detroit’s Golden Tate -- 151 yards on Oct. 26
- Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery -- 136 yards on Oct. 12
- Minnesota’s Jarius Wright -- 132 yards on Sept. 28
- Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans -- 125 yards on Nov. 9
Haden's point is nothing surprises him with Gordon, who considered in the locker room as an otherworldly talent. It's certainly feasible that Gordon makes the list above.