BEREA — Coach Hue Jackson couldn’t help himself.
Receiver Josh Gordon isn’t eligible to play Sunday against Cincinnati, but Jackson inserted him into the first-team offense Wednesday in Gordon’s first practice with the team in 448 days.
“You better believe I did,” Jackson said. “I just wanted to make myself feel happy for a little bit.”
Jackson could hardly contain himself when talking about Gordon’s return to practice — “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s athletic, strong,” Jackson said. “He’s got strong hands. And he can run. He can really run.” — and expected return to the field Dec. 3 in Los Angeles against the Chargers following a lengthy drug suspension.
He acknowledged it was a complete reversal from 14 months earlier when he sat in the same seat and declared he was done with Gordon, who abruptly left the team on the cusp of returning to the field to again check into a rehab facility.
“I was (done). I want you to know that,” Jackson said. “For the football team a year ago, I thought it was really important to really establish a culture here that was right and strong and if somebody wasn’t going to be here, then I need to move on beyond that.
“Since then, understanding and truly getting — I mean, let’s be honest, what this young man’s dealt with is a disease. That’s what it is. It happens and it affects a lot of people in this world. So I had to first educate myself and understand what he was going through, what he was dealing with. I had not had a lot of exposure to him.”
Jackson added he was able to monitor Gordon and his road to recovery from years of addiction. He spent three months in a Florida rehab center this summer.
“I felt more comfortable of understanding what was going on,” Jackson said. “If this was just another one of those flyby situations where it was one of these, ‘He’s going to be in and back out again,’ I wouldn’t want any part of that ’cause I don’t think that’s fair to the team, I don’t think it’s fair to the staff, I don’t think it’s fair to the fans. I really don’t, ’cause he’s a very talented player.
“I truly believe this young man’s working at it. He still has to earn that from his teammates, from the coaches and from the fans. That’s what I think he understands now. So I think he’s in a lot better place, a lot better place to have more people assist him and help him through this process.”
Gordon’s previous practice with the team was Aug. 30, 2016, before the preseason finale. He still had to serve a four-game suspension to open the regular season and wasn’t allowed to practice. Four days before he was to be reinstated, he left the team and drew the harsh reaction from his coach.
“I think he’s in a really good place just as a person, first and foremost,” Jackson said Wednesday.
Gordon’s most recent regular-season practice was Dec. 26, 2014. He overslept after a night of partying, missed the walkthrough the next day and was suspended for the finale.
He’s missed 43 straight Browns games and 53 of 58 because of suspensions. He was conditionally reinstated from an indefinite drug suspension by Commissioner Roger Goodell on Nov. 1. He was placed on the exempt list Monday, allowing him to practice.
Gordon, who is scheduled to talk to reporters Friday, threw Monday for the first time with the quarterbacks. Before that, he was allowed to attend meetings and work out individually with the strength and conditioning staff.
“It went well,” rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “He is a heckuva player, and I’m looking forward to when he is back out there for us.
“The guy is ultimate talent. We all know it. It is time for him to step in and play his role on this team.”
Gordon wore gray tights under his Browns shorts on a cold autumn afternoon. He took his place in the receiver rotation between Rashard Higgins and Bryce Treggs and ran through orange cones to work on footwork. He ran deep routes, out routes and double moves. He received instruction and encouragement from longtime receivers coach Al Saunders.
“He’s something now,” Jackson said. “It was a good first day with him, watching him run around and effort on the practice field, making plays on the ball and doing things. He’s what I thought he was.”
Gordon looked a lot like the guy who led the NFL with a franchise-record 1,646 receiving yards in 14 games in 2013. He came back in great shape, which was different than the last couple of times he’s returned following a long suspension.
He had an immediate impact on practice.
“Josh is just a different talent and we all recognize that and appreciate that and his teammates see it and notice it and that’s what it’s all about,” Jackson said. “But as I told him today, he’s going to earn it. There’s a lot of things he’s still got to continue to do and work through and I think he’s willing to do that.”
If he continues to meet the conditions of reinstatement, he’ll be back to face the Chargers. Jackson can’t wait.
“It’s fun to talk about him right now, but I really don’t have him in a game yet,” Jackson said. “So next week I’ll probably be too excited. I might miss some of these meetings talking to you guys, working up things for him.
“It is fun to have a guy that’s as talented as he is back on our football team and we’ll see what we can do with him next week.”
Jackson didn’t want to revisit any sense of betrayal he felt last season when Gordon deserted the team.
“We have him now,” Jackson said. “He’s out there practicing, he’s with his teammates, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and on we go.”