If you were expecting the Cleveland Browns to use their preseason to examine what life might be like without Josh Gordon, head coach Mike Pettine put those thoughts to rest Wednesday.
Kevin Jones of the Browns' official website sent out a dispatch from training camp, with Pettine indicating that Gordon would see extensive action in Saturday's preseason opener with the Detroit Lions.
"Wide receiver Josh Gordon will be mixed in with first and second team units, and may even see playing time in the second half," Jones wrote.
Gordon, 23, is in the midst of an appeal of a season-long suspension for marijuana use. The NFL's 2013 leading receiver missed practice last week to appear in New York to plead his case and met with Roger Goodell via teleconference after returning Monday, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com. A formal decision is expected sometime within the next week, perhaps even before Saturday's preseason game.
It is possible that the two sides use the waiting period to hatch out a settlement. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported last month that Gordon's appeal highlighted a discrepancy between his "A" and "B" sample, which may give him a stronger case than most who attempt to avoid drug suspensions.
Ross Tucker of the NBC Sports Network shared his thoughts on the young but troubled wideout:
Josh Gordon should be fine moving forward. The 7th failed drug test (3 in college) must be a huge wake-up call.— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) July 31, 2014
The Browns coaching staff has maintained Gordon will be treated as part of the team until a ruling is handed down.
"It's been reported, I think, it'll be a chunk of time,'' Pettine told reporters. "We just don't know when. We don't have an exact date. As frustrating as it is for Josh, I think he's handled it well. He's been practicing hard, giving good effort, finishing plays. Assuming if we don't hear anything, then he'll be out there Saturday."
Gordon is the Browns' most explosive offensive weapon and ranks among their most important players overall. He made 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns last season despite playing in only 14 games due to another suspension. He earned the first All-Pro and Pro Bowl berths of his career and became the only player in league history to have back-to-back 200-yard receiving games.
With the Browns currently engaged in a quarterback battle between rookie Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer, Gordon's presence is all the more important. The coaching staff needs to see him develop chemistry with both players, though his 2013 season indicates he can perform with just about everyone. Getting Gordon work with the second team would allow him to work a bit with Manziel, the team's first-round pick who will ostensibly be tossing him the ball long into the future.
Still, the main priority of everyone in Cleveland is to await the appeal results. Getting him preseason reps is important in the event of a settlement or an overturned penalty, as the distraction of the case probably put him behind a bit in camp.
If Gordon's suspension is upheld, no amount of work he does with Manziel or Hoyer will make a difference. The Browns' receiving corps will go from a decent unit spearheaded by arguably the league's most dynamic playmaker at wide receiver to being a unit bereft of talent that can stretch the field.
Tight end Jordan Cameron made the Pro Bowl last year, but the middle of the field will be much more contaminated without Gordon occupying defensive attention. Miles Austin is oft-injured and cannot be a No. 1 receiver in an above-average NFL offense anymore. Down the line, Cleveland's receiving corps is made of component parts that need an elite player to make their job easier.
Preseason appearance or not, Pettine and Co. will be awaiting the final ruling with bated breath.
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