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Browns WR Josh Gordon said TD in return showed him "this stage was meant for me, that's what I'm meant to do"

BEREA -- Josh Gordon raced down the right sideline

BEREA — Josh Gordon raced down the right sideline, slowed, reached around Buccaneers Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes, snatched the ball out of the air and fell into the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown.
More than 20 months after his last NFL game, Gordon returned to the field Friday in Florida, albeit for a preseason game, and reminded everyone, including himself, how good he can be.
“It definitely did send a spark to me and help me remember some things,” Gordon said Tuesday before practice. “Have that sense of nostalgia of, this is where I belong, this is where I need to be, this stage was meant for me to play on. That’s what I’m meant to do.
“Just doing it consistently and being here for this team, that’s really where it starts at and that’s what I want to do.”
Gordon went through his final full practice Tuesday and will play in the preseason finale Thursday against the Chicago Bears, then begin a four-game suspension to start the season. He and the coaching staff have a strategy to prepare him as much as possible for Week 5 (Oct. 9) against the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, who will return from a four-game suspension for his role in “Deflategate.”
“The plan is to get a bunch of work here at practice today, yesterday we had a good day, and go into this game strong, take away from it as much as I can possibly mentally, retain as much information as I can,” Gordon said. “And I know going into the regular season I’ll be here with the team, working out with our training staff and make sure I stay in shape and be able to be at the point to pick up where I left off from this last preseason game. Hopefully that transition is very smooth for me.”
When Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated Gordon in July from the indefinite drug suspension that cost him all of last season, he added the four-game suspension but allowed Gordon to remain with the team during it — a departure from protocol. Gordon can attend meetings and work out in the facility but won’t be allowed to practice or attend games.
Gordon served a suspension away from the team in each of the last three seasons and struggled without the support system and daily routine. He appreciates the change.
“It’s really a great opportunity,” he said. “Specifically just for having access to the facility, being around the people, still being able to go to meetings and interact with your teammates, still pick up on the knowledge and the installation for the game plan definitely helps.
“As opposed to being out, you’re kind of just in the wind with it. Staying in shape, that’s a major key. So I’m definitely grateful for that. Definitely.”
Coach Hue Jackson wants to see Gordon end the preseason on a high note and keep the momentum during the suspension.
“It’s really important,” Jackson said. “He’s been off to a pretty good start. I mean, if you can score a touchdown a game and catch some long ones, that’s pretty good.
“He needs to stay in it. That’s really all he can do and just make sure he’s on top of things and really understanding how we game-plan and what our process is as far as getting ready for a game.”
Gordon, who continues to impress teammates and coaches with his renewed dedication, plans to use the idle four weeks wisely as he gets ready for his first regular-season action since December 2014.
“I’ll be able to take the mental reps indoors, watch the film when they come back inside, learn everything that they’re learning,” he said.
Gordon missed the first two weeks of training camp and the first two preseason games as he recovered from a quadriceps injury. He didn’t need long to look like the player who was an All-Pro in 2013 with a league-leading and franchise-record 1,646 receiving yards, 87 catches and nine touchdowns.
He dominated sessions of practice, then caught 44- and 43-yard passes from quarterback Robert Griffin III on Friday night. The 43-yarder was the graceful touchdown, which he followed by putting his index finger to his lips to shush the crowd.
“Oh, man. When you’ve gone through the certain amount of things that I’ve gone through and people have their opinions, that’s just kind of what comes with it,” Gordon said. “I think that play and plays to come will slowly reflect that. Hopefully I can project a different image of myself.
“It was bigger than Tampa Bay to me.”
Jackson had never coached Gordon and said he needed to learn him as a player. He’s been a quick study.
“He’s lost weight. He looks like Josh,” Jackson said. “What I’ve learned is that he’s a really good football player that can do a lot of different things.
“We’ll continue to keep growing him. But you guys all know what he is. I do now and looking forward to getting him back.”
Griffin and Gordon have been connecting on long passes since their days at Baylor, so Griffin said he knew what to expect in Gordon’s return.
“When he steps out there on the field he’s got a chip on his shoulder and he’s ready to go out and make plays for us,” Griffin said.
The longtime friends recaptured their timing in a New York minute and believe it will come back just as quickly when Gordon practices again Oct. 5.
“As much as we practice out here and as much as we talk together and get different looks in the preseason and during practice against our defense, he throws it up there a few times, I’ll gauge it and I’ll go try to find it,” Gordon said.
He had no problem doing just that in Tampa.
“I was trying to make up for lost time,” he said. “You definitely have to put in the work, for sure. But I think muscle memory kicks in, your body just kind of adjusts and adapts and you know what to do at a certain point in time and instincts just take over.”
With Gordon’s history, nothing can be taken for granted. But if he returns in Week 5 and remains eligible, he’ll be a restricted free agent after the season. The team suspension for the 2014 finale for missing a walkthrough cost him a season of tenure and the chance to be unrestricted.
So the Browns will be in position to keep him if they want.
“Given the opportunity, I would love to come back to Cleveland,” Gordon said. “Definitely. For sure.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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