Scott Boehm via AP

Josh Gordon has yet to return to the Browns this season, and the first episode of Hard Knocks gives a bit of insight on how Hue Jackson and the rest of the team are dealing with his absence.

By Kalyn Kahler
August 08, 2018

As of this morning, Josh Gordon has still not reported to Browns camp. Cleveland has been quiet about the status of their talented and troubled receiver who, in his own words, is taking time to follow his “overall health and treatment plan.” ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Gordon is seeking additional counseling to deal with his mental health and anxiety, which are closely linked to his substance abuse issues.

The first episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cleveland Browns didn’t give much away about when to expect Gordon’s return or exactly what he’s dealing with away from the team, but there were several scenes that showed the team handling Gordon’s absence.

1) The Browns are confident Gordon will return

At the beginning of the episode, head coach Hue Jackson sits at his office and delivers the news to offensive coordinator Todd Haley, quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese and receivers coach Adam Henry that Josh Gordon will not be reporting for the start of training camp.

“He will be back,” Jackson says. “There is no question. I think we’ll get him back. I’m not going to tell you for sure what day, because I don’t know that, but we will get him back. I think that is the most important part of it.”

Haley: “What’s he got?”

Jackson: “He’s working through some things.”

Zampese: “Is he gonna be in normal condition when he comes back?”

Jackson: “We’re going to see if we can get him in the best condition we can.”

Jackson was aware of the cameras in his office and likely kept his explanation vague on purpose, but what stands out is his firm belief that Gordon, who has missed 43 of the Browns last 48 games due to suspensions, will actually return. It surprised me that Jackson was so adamant that Gordon will be coming back, when Gordon has such an unreliable history. When I visited Cleveland on their fifth day of training camp, I didn’t get the sense that anybody on the team was waiting on Gordon with bated breath. Everyone knows his pattern, so it's almost like anything they can get out of him, two games, four games, whatever it is, is a bonus.

2) Gordon has been in touch with the team 

While Gordon’s status is largely unknown, we do know he is staying in touch with the team while he is away. While I was at Browns camp, I spoke to receivers Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, who both said that they had recently been texting Gordon, giving him encouragement.

In another Hard Knocks scene, Jackson reads a text from Gordon out loud to Dorsey. “Coach, it’s Josh. This is my new number so you can lock me in. I just want to say thank you for sticking by me when I needed it most… I will see you soon.”

The fact that Gordon changed his number could mean he’s cutting people out of his life in an attempt to focus on himself and get more privacy. Now that Cleveland has shipped the oft-injured and disappointing Corey Coleman off to Buffalo and rookie fourth-rounder Antonio Callaway may face a substance-abuse suspension, the Browns could benefit from Gordon’s addition to the receivers room.

“I just reached out to him and told him that he has my full support and that we miss him,” Landry says. “I told him we could use him out here, we could use some more receiver legs running out here. I’m praying for him. I just gave him that encouragement that whatever he is going through, we can’t wait to have him back.”

3) The Browns are not waiting anxiously for Gordon 

After Jackson reveals to his staff that Gordon won’t be at the first part of camp, we get an inside look at how a team strategizes in a semi-crisis situation. Browns VP of communications Peter John-Baptiste talk about the strategy of how to talk about Gordon with Dorsey and Jackson and walks them through some of the questions the media will be asking about Gordon.

“The first question is, when is he going to be back?” John-Baptiste says. “We haven’t talked about that, right?  When he’s ready he’ll be back. But then that leads to question about, how does him not being back disrupt your football team?”

Dorsey replies, “Well I think what you do is you talk about the players that are here. We’re focusing on the 2018 season.”

And the Browns are doing just that. They’re rolling with the guys they have and exercising patience with Gordon, who has already exhausted several second chances, because they know that any production from him this season is better than none at all.  

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