BEREA — Josh Gordon was cleared for takeoff.
He remains grounded, however, by a hamstring issue.
The Browns still hope he’s up and running by the season opener Sept. 9 against the Steelers.
Gordon, one of the most talented receivers in the league, was taken off the non-football injury list Saturday and could’ve practiced.
“He’s now cleared to return to all activities, including games,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told The Chronicle-Telegram in an email.
Gordon participated in the morning walkthrough for the first time since returning to the Browns a week ago. He jogged through plays and caught passes.
But he didn’t practice in the afternoon, instead working on the side with the injured players and athletic training staff. Gordon felt tightness in his hamstring after a tweak during conditioning earlier in the week.
“He just tweaked it, so you guys know I’m not going to put him out there until I think he’s totally ready to go,” coach Hue Jackson said. “So hopefully we’ll work through that, a little minor setback, but we’ll get him out there soon.”
The Browns planned to continue to bring along Gordon slowly, but the hope was he could practice by Monday and play Thursday in the final preseason game in Detroit.
Jackson all but ruled out Gordon appearing against the Lions.
“More than likely not,” he said. “I don’t want to stick him out there if there’s a chance we will not have him for the opener. I want to make sure he’s ready to go.”
Jackson hasn’t budged on the Steelers game as the target for Gordon’s return.
“Oh, yeah. No doubt,” he said.
Gordon, who has been through a series of drug rehabilitations programs, missed the first three-plus weeks of training camp to continue his treatment and concentrate on his well-being. He returned Aug. 18 and began conditioning, attending meetings and watching practice.
Gordon, 27, spent part of his time away working out in Gainesville, Fla. He’s stronger than ever, but Jackson suggested the absence contributed to the tweak.
“Getting ready for football and getting ready someplace else is two different things,” he said.
Gordon participated in the entire offseason program for the first time in years, which should help as he tries to get back up to speed. While practice is critical for Gordon’s preparation, Jackson said the walkthroughs help a lot.
“’Cause we’re running the plays, hearing the calls, breaking the huddle, he said. “He can do all that, that’s for sure. He’ll be back out there sooner than later, that’s for sure.”
The receiving corps has been largely remade since last season and the Browns are counting on Gordon and Jarvis Landry to lead the group. A healthy Gordon would allow rookie Antonio Callaway to fill the No. 3 role and Rashard Higgins to come off the bench.
Gordon is trying to return to his form from 2013, when he led the NFL with a franchise-record 1,646 receiving yards.
“It’s very exciting because it just opens up another dimension for our offense,” free safety Damarious Randall said. “Once Josh gets going, he is going to demand double teams. You want guys that are going to demand two guys. So now it makes it a bit easier for the quarterback, the running game, you name it. I’m just looking forward to seeing him out there on the field catching passes.”
While that will have to wait a bit longer, Gordon’s mere presence lifted spirits in the locker room.
“Just seeing a face that we haven’t seen in training camp, it was a good feeling to have our brother on the sideline and on the practice field with us, he just brings that energy back,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “I was excited to see him. We all know what Josh can do and I’m just ready for when he gets back to the next step or whatever he’s got to do and just get in that equipment.”
Gordon has dealt with addiction for much of his life and has been suspended several times for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He returned for the final five games last season after missing 44 straight games and 54 of 59.
“He’s always putting other people before him and he’s just a guy that loves to work so whenever you see him taking those proper steps, it just excites me just to see that he can get through adversity,” Kirksey said. “That’s probably the most adversity you can see and he’s got through it and us as his family, especially on the football field, we help him get through it. I’m proud of Josh and I can’t wait to see him excel this year.
“I’m just excited to see him get the opportunity to go showcase his talent and the proper steps he needs to take to be fully ready.”